People sometimes say that in heaven the streets are paved with gold. One city in Missouri is trying something just as unique, and potentially even more beneficial – streets paved with solar panels.
A company called Solar Roadways has developed a system of modular, hexagonal solar panels that can be applied to U.S roads and highways. The hope is that one day these solar streets will not only recharge the electrical cars riding on them, but also provide power to homes and businesses throughout the city.
It’s all very early stage stuff at the moment. But the Missouri Department of Transportation was intrigued enough by the idea to launch a pilot program in the city of Conway. Panels have been installed on a sidewalk instead of a street, outside a Route 66 Welcome Center. If enough energy is created – say, to lower the monthly power bills at the Welcome Center, a larger deployment will be attempted.
The panels will also be equipped with a heating element, which could pay dividends in parts of the country where winter brings additional transportation problems. What if roads could be heated enough to melt the snow that falls on them? No icy streets, no fleet of snow plows to dispatch after a blizzard, no need to dig out your car from under several inches of snowfall.
Before we get there, however, there will be testing, and studies, and then more testing and studies. Look at the regulatory challenges that had to be overcome to put solar panels on rooftops.
But it’s worth the wait when you consider the astonishing amount of solar energy supplied by the sun, and how little we still use of it. Scientists believe that the solar power that reaches the earth’s surface in just one hour is enough to power the entire planet for one year. When you consider how much of our planet’s surface is now covered with roads, streets and superhighways, the potential for additional energy generation is extraordinary.