It’s the age of technology, and nothing is off-limits—not even the highway.
According to an article from the Christian Science Monitor, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plans to build America’s first public solar-powered road along a section of the famous Route 66.
The idea is to line a portion of the well-traveled highway with energy-generating photovoltaic pavers (say that three times fast!), which are in-road panels. Each panel (pictured below) weighs about 70 pounds and can allegedly support the weight of semi trucks. They have a surface similar to asphalt that prevents slipping and skidding, and they’re even fitted with LED lights to create lines and markers without paint. If all of that wasn’t high-tech enough, the panels can also warm up to thaw ice on the roads.
The panels will be installed near a rest top, and the hope is that the panels will produce not only enough electricity to keep the rest stop facilities running but also fund future projects.
The solar road is made possible by the Idaho startup Solar Roadways. The company is trying to create renewable energy from the lost solar energy that hits surfaces we walk and drive over.
Five years ago, founders Scott and Julie Brusaw, a husband and wife team, won a two-year $750,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation to further research their solar panel project. With these funds, they built the world’s first prototype solar parking lot in Idaho. In 2014, the Brusaws held a wildly successful crowdfunding effort and raised more than $2.2 million to bring their technology to life.
The Brusaws say America could generate more than three times our electricity consumption from the year 2009 if the roads and parking lots are paved with these solar panels. Critics say that transportation officials already struggle to fund our existing roads. Solar Roadways counters with the claim that departments of transportation don’t receive enough money from the gas tax to repair roads and that their proposed solar freeways would help increase energy savings by a wide margin.
If this all sounds too futuristic to be true, don’t worry. There have already been several similar experiments in Europe, and they’ve been quite successful. Last year, the Netherlands built a 230-foot bike path paved with glass-coated solar panels that generated enough electricity to power a house after only six months. France also intends to resurface more than 600 miles of road with a similar panel that will create renewable energy.