Route 66 will soon become a testing ground for solar sidewalks and roads

Updated Oct 4, 2016
Solar road rendering; Solar Roadways.Solar road rendering; Solar Roadways.

Route 66 will soon become the testing ground for an experiment that developers hope may change our roadways in the future.

Curbed reports that hexagonal glass panels manufactured by Solar Roadways will be laid over a sidewalk near a rest stop in Conway, Missouri, in early December. According to Missouri Department of Transportation staff, this will be the first public test of the technology, though other trials will follow in Sandpoint, Idaho, and in Baltimore. Two European agencies are also testing the technology.

The glass-covered solar panels were developed by Scott and Julie Brusaw in Idaho. They got a two-year, $750,000 Small Business Innovative Research contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct tests in 2011, and later raised more than $2.2 million through crowdfunding.

If the sidewalk test is successful, the next step will be to try the panels in the rest stop’s parking lot, then the entrance and exit ramps, and eventually to move them to the streets and highways. The vision is that the solar roads would heat themselves, require little to no maintenance in the winter, and provide power for lights and signs.

Using solar roadways, instead of panels on roofs or in large open spaces, would allow governments to produce solar energy in areas where infrastructure already exists. Sten de Wit, a spokesman for Netherlands-based SolaRoad which is creating technology similar to that of Solar Roadways, told the news agency that the Netherlands has twice as much road space as roof space.

Plus, the solar roads could provide a source of revenue other than tolls for major roads, which is a positive for any government entity.