And the roads could also be monetized, providing a second source of revenue beyond tolls for major roads--a possibility sure to attract any government.
First the technology will need to be proven, beginning with small-scale projects under foot traffic like the Missouri rest stop. The glass panels will then have to face the weight of vehicles, followed by vehicles moving at high speeds. They'll have to allow tire traction as well or better than cement. Depending on their location, they'd also have to survive snow and ice in the winter, plus the temperature changes that contribute to potholes--although the self-heating feature envisioned by Solar Roadways could solve much of that.Similar projects are taking place overseas. In France, road construction company Colas is currently testing Wattway, a centimeter-thick layer that's applied on top of existing roads to produce solar energy. And SolaRoad, the company in the Netherlands, is testing its own products along stretches of bike paths.
Even if the experiments prove successful, price will be an obstacle. An engineer at Wattway told Curbed the costs of the solar-powered roads are far more expensive than the cost to build standard roadways. But that could change, once the roads achieve their full potential for creating revenue-producing energy. And refining the manufacturing process is sure to drive down costs over time.
The race to upend the solar industry is seemingly underway. In August, Elon Musk announced that SolarCity is developing aesthetically pleasing solar roofs. Other companies, like Los Angeles-based Rayton Solar, are trying to lower costs by drastically reducing the amount of silicon required to manufacture the panels.
Ninety-nine percent of the energy used in the U.S. currently comes from sources other than solar.