Solar Roadways of Idaho is about to make Route 66 America's first public roadway to receive a solar panel makeover.
Route 66 stretched nearly 2,500 miles—from Chicago,to Santa Monica—and beginning in 1926 was the most direct path for those who were westward-bound during the 1930s Dust Bowl. For middle-aged and older Americans, this length of asphalt represented the family summer vacation along one of America’s first official highways.
Ninety years later, the highway is likely to be remembered for something else—Solar Roadways of Idaho is about to make it America’s first public roadway to receive a solar panel makeover.
With a small start—solar panels applied to the welcome center walkway in Conway, MO—there are big plans for the future. When complete, the hexagonal solar panels will be extended all the way to the highway and be clean conductors of energy.
According to Solar Roadways, if all American roads and walkways were covered in solar panels, such as those used in Conway, they could generate three times as much energy as is used in America. This is an environmentally friendly solution that would drive down energy costs, but it doesn’t stop there.
This specific type of solar panel can be programed to function as road signs—changing as needed to alert drivers to animal crossings or downed trees—and can conduct heat to prevent icing, thus saving municipalities expenses on items such as street painting, signage, or snow removal from roadways.
Like using recycled water bottles for fabric, the technology is not without its drawbacks. Installing and repairing these roadways is more expensive when compared to traditional roads, and may need to be replaced often due to typical traffic wear and tear. Additional concerns have been raised about how extreme weather will affect the surfaces, but Solar Roadways has been working since 2014 to improve safety and durability. Tests and improvements continue as they seek ways to reduce installation costs and increase solar energy gain by 25% per panel.
Until the solar panels are installed on public roadways and walkways, taxpayers may not know what to expect as a return on their investment, but if they function as well as it is thought they might, the panels could be a major improvement over current methods—cheaper energy, more adaptable, and much, much cleaner than asphalt.
Getting our kicks on Route 66 may take on a whole new meaning!