Many homes across the country have solar panels on their roofs, powering their homes through the rays of the sun, but could solar come to other areas of our world, like our roadways, powering our towns on a grander scale?
Roughly a decade ago, there was quite a bit of talk about addressing the energy crisis with solar roadways. The concept is a good one: put panels in the road to produce electricity while also heating the roads to melt the snow and ice. As a longtime Chicagoan, I could appreciate this concept.
The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment says solar roadways consist of three layers, a hexagonal tempered glass surface, the solar cells, and the power delivery system connecting the entire unit. These units are capable of generating clean energy, protecting the environment, and significantly reducing the frequency of repairs and maintenance when compared to traditional asphalt and yet the concept of solar roads has not yet taken off, at least here in the states.
Why or Why Not?
There are a handful of reasons for this including lack of light on roads, the cost, and if I am being entirely candid here it is challenging just to get standard infrastructure projects off the ground with the lack of workers and cost of materials.
If we do want to see some success with solar and see a glimpse into what is to come in the future, we just must look to the West. California is a leader in solar power and ranks No. 1 in the nation for solar energy generation.
The Environment California Research and Policy Center points to many successful programs including the Million Solar Roofs initiative, which led to more than 1.7 million solar roofs. California has also seen a 1,020% increase in battery storage capacity since 2020. Still, the state needs to triple the amount of solar power capacity if it wants to meet its 100% clean energy target and so it is now looking to the roads—not necessarily on them, but next to them.
Jointly, the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego have more than 4,800 acres of space to develop solar power alongside highways, which if covered by solar panels could generate enough electricity to power more than 270,000 homes annually.
Installing solar panels in these Californian roadside locations could add up to 960 MW of much-needed clean energy capacity and generate an estimated 1,960.9 GWh of electricity per year. And let’s be honest here. If California sees an opportunity for solar in its communities, it is probably going to make the most of it.
But what about actual solar roads? Will those come to fruition soon? China, France, and the Netherlands have been exploring the possibility of solar roads, but most have yet to see the return on investment to justify further expense. Knowing how difficult it can be to deliver infrastructure projects here in the United States, I would say don’t expect to see solar roads in your community anytime soon. For now, let’s stick with those solar farms next to the roads and see what kind of power that can give us. If you ask me though, this is something I can see our governor here in South Carolina just getting very exciting about. He is the EV Governor after all!
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