Recently, the Missouri Department of Transportation announced that it will be upgrading a stretch of Route 66 as part of a partnership with Solar Roadways, which should come as welcome news to those who are interested in future trends because of the project’s implications for the U.S. road system. (1)
In brief, Solar Roadways is a business that manufactures solar panels of incredible strength. (2) This is possible because their solar panels are made using a special kind of tempered glass that is not just capable of withstanding the weight of semi-trucks rolling over them but also capable of providing the same level of traction as more common materials such as asphalt, which is an interesting contrast to the mental image of smoothness that comes up whenever glass is mentioned as a material. As a result, Solar Roadways can use its solar panels to create paved surfaces, with common examples ranging from roads to parking lots.
However, it is interesting to note that this is just the beginning of what Solar Roadways has managed to imbue into its products. First, its solar panels contain LED lights, which can be used to create lines and signage that have to be painted onto their predecessors. Second, its solar panels contain microprocessors, which make them capable of communicating not just with each other but also with a central control station for the road system as well as the motor vehicles that are moving over them. Finally, its solar panels come with heating elements, which make it possible for them to prevent the build-up of snow and other forms of precipitation without human intervention.
Of course, the most interesting fact about Solar Roadways’s solar panels is that they are solar panels, meaning that they can be used to collect power by using nothing more than the sunlight shining upon them. While some of this power will be used up in the process of powering the rest of their functions, the rest of the power can be put to other uses as well, whether that means filling up the recharge stations that the business is planning to install at some of the locations for the convenience of their users or being sent to the power system in order to relieve a little bit of the burden placed upon it on a constant basis. Combined with the rest of their functions, this makes Solar Roadways’s solar panels seem more like something out of science fiction than reality, which is perhaps appropriate considering their potential to become the roads of the future.
With that said, it is important to remember that Solar Roadways is still in its earliest stages. While it has had some small successes so far, its contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation will be an important test of its real capabilities. Should it succeed, there is little doubt that it will move onto bigger and even better things, but should it fail to meet the expectations placed upon it, there is little doubt that it will prove to be a disastrous setback for the relatively recent start-up. On the plus side, the fact that Solar Roadways is still in its earliest stages should be seen as an encouraging sign. After all, if they have already managed to achieve so much in so short a period of time, how much more will they be able to achieve as they continue to develop their particular techniques and technologies by learning from doing?
What Does This Mean For the United States?
If the project is successful, widespread adoption of Solar Roadways’s solar panels could result in a wide range of benefits for the United States. For example, having solar panels replace the asphalt used in roads, parking lots, and other paced surfaces throughout the country would mean enormous increases in the amount of solar power being produced, which would also mean a corresponding fall in its current reliance on non-renewable sources of power. Since the current reliance on non-renewable sources of power is responsible for the phenomenon of man-made climate change, this could have an important role in stemming the problem at the source while also contributing to the solutions of other problems such as high pollution and high power costs.
Furthermore, it is important to note that these solar panels represent part of the infrastructure that will be needed to encourage U.S. consumers to make more eco-conscious choices. After all, while there is plenty of infrastructure in the country to support the use of gas-powered motor vehicles, there is much less infrastructure in the country to support the use of electric-powered motor vehicles, meaning that U.S. consumers have strong incentives to choose the first over the second. By installing recharge stations, Solar Roadways could contribute to the eventual change in U.S. consumers’ purchasing patterns, which will also constitute part of the solution to the phenomenon of man-made climate change.
Finally, it would be misleading to mention the solar panels’ potential benefits without mentioning those that are less spectacular. For example, while most people spare little thought for snow and other forms of precipitation save when they are about to encounter them, the heating elements installed in the solar panels could not just help the U.S. government save money by reducing their needs to pay for services to clear the roads but also reduce the number of injuries sustained in car accidents caused by bad driving conditions, thus leading to better outcomes for U.S. drivers. Similarly, the microprocessors could also provide said individuals with useful information while they are out on the road, thus increasing their convenience while also enabling them to keep up-to-date with the latest information, which can be extremely important when it comes to driving.
Will This Catch On?
It is still too soon to tell whether Solar Roadways’s solar panels will really be used to create the roads of the future, but so far, the signs seem encouraging. Should the partnership with the Missouri Department of Transportation prove successful, U.S. drivers should not be surprised to see them used in more and more U.S. locations in the future.