BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
At the edge of the Mid-West and along the most iconic symbol of the great American road trip the state of Missouri is about to take its first step toward what could be the future of roadways across the country.
“If the solar roadway concept proves to be feasible, it creates electricity and could be the first road in history to ever pay for itself,” Tom Blair, the head of Missouri’s Road to Tomorrow Initiative said of the project to restore his state’s roads using a new technology.
The large tempered glass solar panels will be tested on the sidewalk and parking lot of the Welcome Center in Conway on Route 66 with the eventual goal of replacing the pavement on the highway itself.
Solar roads are the brainchild of Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sandpoint, Idaho who founded their company Solar Roadways in 2006. They’ve raised more than $2 million in crowdfunding for the project and have obtained a contract from the Federal Department of Transportation to further develop the technology.
The hexagonal blocks each cover roughly four square feet and are able to withstand the weight of a transport truck according to its developers. In addition to creating solar energy, the blocks are also equipped with LED lights eliminating the need for painted lines and can generate heat, reducing the need to plow and salt the roads.
With further development of solar technology the company also claims that its roads could eliminate the need for roadside re-fuelling. “We’ll be able to charge electric vehicles with clean energy from the sun, first on our solar parking lots and when we have enough highway infrastructure, while driving.”
The solar panels can generate up to 44 watts with one square mile producing 278 megawatts. The US currently has 61,000 square miles of roads and parking lots that could potentially be replaced by solar road panels.
In comparison, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska has a capacity of 479 MW, the lowest capacity of any nuclear plant in America. Other plants can produce thousands of MW per hour and power significantly more than solar roads currently can. But nuclear plants, while relatively clean, can also be an extremely dangerous alternative.
The Brusaws admit that the that solar technology still lags far behind oil and natural gas in terms of cost and efficiency and the US Energy Information Administration claims that the United States has enough natural gas to last nearly a hundred years. Yet with infrastructure crumbling all over the country and the future of the planet at stake, these Idaho pioneers are focused on innovation in an area that hasn’t seen any significant changes in centuries.
“The last few decades have brought dramatic technological changes to cars, cell phones, computers, cameras, and many other technologies, but roads remain virtually unchanged.” Says the company’s website.
America is currently $1.44 trillion short of what it needs to invest in infrastructure, which is why the Missouri Department of Transportation has chosen to partner with Solar Roadways and start a crowdfunding operation of its own. As Blair told the local News Tribune, “We will soon have self-driving, ‘smart’ vehicles on our dumb and underfunded roadways.”
The first phase of the project is set to be complete before the winter and there can be no better place to bring America’s roads into the future than on a historic stretch of highway it has long since forgotten.