Solar Roadways Could Soon Be a Reality in the U.S.

More people are making the switch to alternative energies for either their home or business. Why? For starters, alternative – or renewable – energies are not harmful to the environment. The fossil fuels the United States relied on for so long have negative impacts on the globe that we are only just now seeing. Alternative energies are also popular because they offer economic benefits as well.

Now that businesses are starting to notice that renewables are cheaper to use, they are making the switch. They are particularly interested in solar because they can receive solar panel tax credits and look good to the public. Its popularity in particular has led to some interesting innovations. Some countries are pushing to place solar panels in roads or walkways to both capitalize on the energy of the sun and promote a greener environment.

The adoption rate for solar power keeps rising as more homes and business turn to solar energy to supply electricity. Those panels are effective and practical, yet the future of solar could also be on the roads, as well as attached to roofs.

Solar roadways are a reality now that France plans to install solar roads in the next five years.  If the solar roads work as well as planned, they’ll generate enough power for 5 million people. Imagine a similar project done to scale in the United States!

The Technology

The technology behind solar roads isn’t completely new, yet it’s never been done on the scale that France is attempting. In 2014, the Netherlands installed a short 70-meter long (239 feet) solar bike path as an experiment. The project finished better than initially expected. The bike path generated 70 kWh per meter annually — or enough to power one home for a year. Still, this experimental technology was expensive. The installation cost of $3.7 million generated $2,000 worth of technology.

The yield is nowhere near as high as a traditional solar panel, yet the solar road is completely functional without occupying existing space. With a thin, strong panel, solar roads can generate electricity while also being skid-resistant.

The project in France, handled by the Colas infrastructure firm, is expected to be much more efficient than the Dutch experiment. To pay for the solarizing, France’s minister of ecology and energy said the government plans to increase taxes on fuel to raise 200 to 300 million euros ($220-440 million). With fuel prices at the lowest in years, now is probably a prudent time for the French government to try to earn extra revenues.

Coming to the United States

France’s attempt to turn roads into green energy sources is impressive, but Europe isn’t alone in developing this technology. With the United States’ 33,000 miles (53,000 KM) of federal interstate highways, and 50,000 additional miles (80,000 km) of state-managed highways, the roads are ripe for solar technology. Plans are underway to harness this potential.

Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based company, hopes to bring solar roads to the U.S. So far, the United States Department of Transportation has provided three contracts to the company, as the government is optimistic about the technology’s capabilities. The DOT said in a statement:

With the increasingly important worldwide goal for sustainable pavement solutions, DOT has received a lot of positive feedback about this project, and enthusiasm for Solar Roadways’ work is pretty high. Because this idea offers the ability to melt snow on the roadway or keep water from freezing, even if the cost for comprehensive highway implementations is too high, this innovation could still be useful in smaller areas such as parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, and bike lanes.

Solar Roadways’ plans also earned the support of the public. In 2014, a public fundraising campaign raised $2.2 million from interested donors.


Parking lot prototype for solar roadways technology created by company, Solar Roadways.

While everyone is enamored by the technology, there are underlying concerns about the cost. The DOT says one of the biggest shortcomings in a solar roadway is the cost of manufacturing, as they’re currently done by hand and very expensive. The company, Solar Roadways, expects the technology to continue to improve, therefore lowering production costs.

France’s massive undertaking will go a long way in proving the viability of converting roads to solar around the world. If it’s an expensive flop, it will take much longer for the technology to become viable, but if it’s a success, you can bet that the technology will be implemented in the U.S.

Do you think the U.S. should invest in solar roadways?



This Women of Green guest blog is by Megan Ray Nichols. Megan writes about many environmental topics including, renewable energy, conservation and sustainability. She invites you to join the discussion on her own blog, Schooled By Science.



Photo Source: Solar Roadways Company

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