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Are Solar Panels the Roads of the Future?

Are Solar Panels the Roads of the Future?


The asphalt industry has made leaps and bounds in terms of ecological impact. Companies like Lakeridge Paving Co. contribute to the improved sustainability of asphalt by using recycled materials as much as possible. From an economical and functionality standpoint, asphalt is still the best option for paving roads, and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s incumbent upon companies like ours to do our best to minimize the environmental impact of asphalt, and we strive to do so every day. But in the distant future, there may be options that are more sustainable and functional than asphalt – even if that day is far off.

As technology continues to improve and international interest in “green” advancement grows, solar panel roads may become a realistic possibility that could provide a more sustainable alternative to asphalt. The cost – and the sheer volume of roads – means solar roads are not an economical or entirely realistic solution today, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

A Second Look at Solar Roadways®

You have probably heard about Solar Roadways before, even if you don’t recognize the company name. In 2010, the husband-wife team Scott and Julie Brusaw received their first of three grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and news outlets started reporting on their unique story. Then in 2014, they launched a highly successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, raising more than 2.2 million dollars.1 Their press coverage has dwindled since then, but they’ve continued their work on solar panels in the meantime.

So, what have the Brusaws been up to? As it turns out, they’ve installed a solar panel prototype in their hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho and may even be installing another this year on the sidewalk at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center. If the test goes well, they may be allowed to start incorporating solar panels into Route 66 itself.

They are far from alone in their approach to sustainability and transportation, though. Just this past year, Colas installed 30 thousand square feet of solar panel road in Tourouvre-au-Perche, a small village in Normandy, France.2 Although numerous organizations are jumping onboard, Solar Roadways is the company that seems to have received the most attention in the United States.

Why Solar Panel Roads Just Might Be a Genius Idea

The Brusaws have a lot of big ideas for their technology. Not only do they want to provide a more sustainable alternative to current roads, but they also want to improve upon what our roads can actually do. Here are just a few ideas they hope come to fruition, according to their website:

  • Clean energy production – According to Scott Brusaw, we could generate more than three times the energy the U.S. uses by paving all the roadways and parking lots in the country with just 15-percent-efficient solar cells.3 Energy from the sun does not produce greenhouse gas emissions like burning fossil fuels does.
  • Snow and ice and removal – The Brusaws plan for their product to be heated just above the freezing point, potentially melting off snow and ice so the roadways are safe during inclement weather. This could significantly reduce the need for homeowners and cities to hire snow plowing services and increase the availability of roads in the winter months.
  • Light-up display – These panels include LEDs that light up just like a disco floor. These LEDs could allow for changing signage and warnings to “slow down” if the panels detect the weight of a pedestrian nearby.
  • Customizability – Right now, we must repaint and repave our roads to change them. However, with LED displays, paneled parking lots and roads could be re-customized with new lines and signage whenever it’s needed.
  • Ability to charge electric cars – With the extra energy they generate and the communication between panels and cars passing overhead, there is potential for these new roads to charge electric cars while they’re driving.

It should be noted that Solar Roadways is still in the prototype phase and has yet to implement all these functions on a large scale. They expect their panels to be used residentially, in parking lots and on walkways and bike paths before they ever end up on an actual road.

The Drawbacks

Solar Roadways has received mixed reactions online, especially since they have garnered so much hype and popularity. While supporters see solar panel roads as a clear next step tower greener energy, critics have major practical concerns, including:

  • The extremely high cost of production and installation is unrealistic, especially on as large of a scale as the entire United States.
  • The tempered glass technology isn’t self-cleaning and might not withstand heavy loads and constant use once put on an actual road.
  • These panels lay inefficiently flat and would be covered by vehicles part of the time. There are many better ways to capture sunlight, like panels on roofs or along the road.

In other words, many critics think solar panel roads are a great imaginative exercise but probably not feasible or economical right now. Still, they can’t argue with the fact that USDOT has continued to support Solar Roadways as recently as 2015 and that the company has garnered massive support.

Improve Your Driveway or Parking Lot with Lakeridge Paving Co. in Washington

While solar panel roads are a potentially revolutionary idea, their widespread implementation is decades away at the very least. In the meantime, we’ll just have to rely on good old-fashioned asphalt!

At Lakeridge Paving Co., our 70-person team specializes in affordable residential, commercial and industrial pavement services. We have served the greater Puget Sound area for more than 40 years. Our local team understands how asphalt ages in Washington weather and what treatment your pavement will need to look its best.

Call us at 888-403-8290 to request your quote today.