June 12


In case you haven’t heard, Solar Roadways has raised over $2 million on the crowd funding site IndieGoGo for their concept of putting solar panels on roads.  Below is a six minute video about the concept.

Solar panels on roads?  That sounded silly to me when I first heard about it.  Put the panels on top of roofs or in the ditches on the side of the roads.  Putting them on the roads will be a maintenance nightmare.

But then I actually looked at their website and read some of the news reports.  Now I’m a convert and think they could have a future.

Here are the Top 10 Reasons Solar Roadways are Viable

  1. A lot of new infrastructure technology is an all or nothing system. Solar Roadways is an easy concept to deploy on a small scale, pilot project.  Private property owners or individual agencies can test them on parking lots, bike trails, sidewalks, short street segments, bridge decks, etc.
  2. The panels have heating elements in them to always keep the road above the freezing point, which would eliminate snow plowing.  This is a big safety and cost issue in my region.
  3. Piggybacking on the snow issue – a huge hurdle for autonomous vehicles is their ability to deal with roads that are covered with snow.  Solar Roadways eliminates that issue.
  4. The embedded LED lights give us flexibility to change lane striping and pavement markings.  We could change the lane configurations on roadways by time of day.  This would be a huge bonus for places with heavy commuter patterns or events where we could have the road mostly be for inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening.  It would also allow us to test different configurations and document the effects.  We wouldn’t be coming up with our best guess at the top design, we could actually test our top three designs.  It would be a boon for testing bike lane configurations.
  5. The government is already subsidizing solar panels, but now they’re on private buildings or out in solar panel farms.  That electricity has to be transmitted to where it’s needed.  Having Solar Roadways everywhere would greatly expand the web of our energy grid, cutting down on the inefficient hub and spoke system we currently have.  This would be fantastic for small, rural towns located far from the energy plants.  It could also mean we don’t have to transport coal across the country from the mines to the coal plants.  It is an engineering embarrassment we are so dependent on fossil fuels.
  6. Public Works departments would evolve.  With Solar Roadways, there’d be no more pothole filling, mill and overlays, seal coating, re-striping, or snow plowing.  The replaceable, interchangeable panel concept looks very easy to maintain.  Electricians would come out as winners and the paving industry would come out as losers.
  7. The panels have built in sensors.  Instead of installing a couple of hundred weather and data sensors across a state, every single panel is producing data.  This real time data could be harnessed for improving traffic flow and the historical data archives would be a huge resource for transportation planning.
  8. Building on the sensors – traffic signal timing could use the data from the panels instead of using expensive loops, video cameras, or microwave detectors.
  9. Run off the road crashes on rural curves are a big issue that have been greatly studied over the last five years with several technology solutions being proposed.  The embedded sensors could track vehicle direction and speed, then the LED lights in the road could light up ifs a motorist is in danger of running off the road.
  10. The system’s in pavement lights can sense animals on the road and give warnings for when there are actually dangers present (instead of our deer crossing signs that the deer never seem to obey).

The concept is still in the prototype stage, so we don’t know the economics of Solar Roadways or the maintenance issues.  It is feasible to think it could be cost neutral, but even if it isn’t, there are plenty of reasons transportation professionals should support Solar Roadways test projects.

My hunch is that engineers could come up with 100 innovative ways to use this technology.  I hope we’re open minded and start testing it out.

  • I think the concept is great. However, I still have a few concerns about this. First of all, to build those panels on a large scale, I guess you’ll need a lot of “high-tec” materials that you don’t find as easily as rock and sand and you might then create a shortage and technology prices might rise because of it.

    Second is about safety. What about the adherence of those panels and the loss of adherence over time due to the traffic and trucks? Also, if there is heavy snow and the panels get covered so that they don’t collect any more energy, do they have sufficient energy to maintain the heating for a certain time?

    Other than that, I do think that this idea has a lot of potentials and could be very useful in some areas…. the thing is: how much will it cost per mile compared to regular asphalt?

  • Pierre-Luc: I agree. The devil is in the details. I want to see a couple of pilot projects built so we can answer these questions. Mike

  • These do not replace pavement, they are in addition to pavement because something needs to hold these up. I do not see these being used on a large scale. I do think they could replace raised pavement marker reflectors on a MUCH smaller scale. Snow plows are still necessary because most heasted sidewalks cannot keep up with heavy snow. Video is a sales pitch not a solution

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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