Route 66 edges closer to becoming a solar road

Solar Roadways road surface solar panels

Solar Roadways road surface solar panels

Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based startup, is eyeing up the iconic, cross-country Route 66 to potentially lay the familiar road with solar panels.

We first learned of the plan a year ago, and since then Solar Roadways and the state of Missouri have collaborated to first install Solar Roadways’s hexagonal sunlight absorbing panels on the walkway at the state’s welcome center in Conway, Missouri as part of a pilot project. If all goes well, the state will consider applying the solar panel technology to its portion of Route 66.

Solar Roadways’s road surface solar panels are designed to deliver the same traction characteristics of pavement, but they contain LEDs that would eliminate the need for painting road stripes, and they also have integrated heating elements capable of melting snow and ice. Generated electricity could also be plugged back into the grid to power homes.

“If their version of the future is realistic, if we can make that happen, then roadways can begin paying for themselves,” Missouri DOT assistant district engineer Tom Blair said of Solar Roadways’ technology.

Artist's rendering of Solar Roadways, installed in Sandpoint, Idaho

Artist’s rendering of Solar Roadways, installed in Sandpoint, Idaho

It wouldn’t be the first time solar power was applied to a country’s roadways, though. Last year, France became home to the first solar roadway, having used the Wattway road surface solar panels developed by French transport company Colas. The stretch measured in at just 1.0 kilometer, or 0.62 miles, and cost a whopping $5.2 million. Now, the French government will study the roadway to see if it can hold its own over two years of daily traffic.

Back in the U.S., Solar Roadways has received funding from the U.S. DOT to continue its testing and development. The startup has also received more than $2 million in crowd-sourced funding.

The company says it’s also looking at installing the panels in carparks to provide energy for electric car charging stations. And as wireless charging technology improves, there’s even the possibility that electric cars driven on solar roads will be able to charge on the go.

Solar Roadways will have some competition, though. The state of Georgia is currently working with the aforementioned Colas company to install its Wattway solar road technology on an 18 mile stretch of Interstate 85.

–Sean Szymkowski

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