These solar road panels could turn our world into Tron

Solar Roadways is an Idaho startup that's developed a system of modular solar panels, which they hope will one day power our cities, recharge our cars, and make roads safer.

solar roadways smart city
Credit: Indiegogo

Solar Roadways believes the road ahead should be paved with solar panels. The Idaho startup makes hexagonal solar panels that it's trying to get installed on U.S. roads. The goal is to generate enough energy to power homes and businesses, and the panels can even light up to display programmable road markings.

It's a lofty idea but the company has gained some early support. Solar Roadways has completed three rounds of testing with the U.S. Department of Transportation and in 2014 it raised over $2 million on Indiegogo. The project has also caught the attention of Missouri's Department of Transportation, which will install the panels, as part of a pilot program, on a sidewalk in front of the Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway. 

Tom Blair is an engineer at the Missouri Department of Transportation and leads its Road to Tomorrow initiative. The program aims to generate new revenue for the state's transportation system, which is one reason why Blair says Solar Roadways is appealing. 

“At first there will be offsets of electricity at the welcome center. ... We’ll get a larger deployment if we see enough energy created, and we would expand the deployment, and over time we would create more energy than we can consume. So the concept is that there would be a revenue stream in that.”

Each panel is also equipped with a heating element, which Blair says could solve a big problem in Missouri.

“Right now, we spend a lot of money in the winter months removing snow and ice from our roadways, so we are really excited if this could actually melt the snow and ice and we wouldn’t have to plow it.”

Contracts between Missouri and Solar Roadways have not been finalized but Blair estimated the sidewalk project will cost around $100,000. He hopes the panels will be installed by the time the snow flies in Missouri.

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