Why Solar-Powered Roads Are Unsustainable | UNIQUE Paving Materials

Asphalt Rules: Why Solar-Powered Roads Are Unsustainable

solar-powered roads

The push for energy efficiency is everywhere—and now it is working its way underneath our roads. Solar panel roads are one of the latest technologies making the transition from testing to implementation. Although the technology itself is well researched and effective, solar-powered roads pose many issues for daily use. Overall, the cost and complexity of solar panel roads make them a frivolous option next to the traditional paving materials used in concrete or asphalt roads.

Given that the current expense of maintaining roads is already an issue, increasing the cost of roads up to 40 times with solar panels is hardly economical. By the time the costs of maintenance and repair are factored in, the process of repairing a simple pothole will pale in comparison. In theory, though, solar panel roads could come with a whole variety of extra features.

Some of the benefits that solar panel roadways could offer include:

  • LED road markings
  • Automated lane marking changes
  • Automated traffic pattern changes
  • Traffic sensors
  • Crash sensors
  • Heated roads

As nice as these may sound, though, they will likely fail under inclement conditions. Let’s uncover the problems and risks associated with solar-powered roads below.

Solar Panel Roads, Asphalt Roads, and Winter Damage

One of the strongest arguments against solar panel roadways is the question of their effectiveness in winter weather. Firstly, a thick layer of snow will render the solar panels, and all of their added perks, useless. The energy to power the roads will then have to be pulled from the electric grid, making it less than energy efficient.

Snowplows offer little help in this situation. The process of clearing snow with a large metal blade will deteriorate solar panel roads and their uneven glass surfaces. Plus, potholes in glass roads will have sharper edges and cause more damage to car tires. In general, solar panel roadways are too delicate and elaborate to function well in harsh settings or under the stress of constant use.

Other Issues with Solar-Powered Roads

  • Cost – The cost of manufacturing, installing, and repairing solar-powered roads is high, and economic feasibility is a major concern. Repairing any damaged panels would be a costly operation, and such repairs would be needed regularly.
  • More intense maintenance – All roads require maintenance, but damage to solar-powered roads could require someone who is trained and equipped for the specialized job. This would make it harder to find a qualified person to fix the issue and could lead to safety issues or road closings in the meantime.
  • Lack of traction and safety – One of the biggest components of proper road construction is safety. Therefore, it is important to monitor road sections to ensure that they provide adequate traction, especially in wet or icy conditions. Solar-powered roads would likely suffer in the traction department, and issues caused by them breaking apart, as outlined above, would cause road hazards.
  • Reduced efficiency – Solar panels are typically installed at an angle for optimized absorption. In solar-powered roads, a flat configuration is the only option, which in turn reduces the efficiency of the solar panels, partially defeating the purpose of installing them in the first place.

Since solar-powered roads use renewable energy, aren’t they environmentally friendly?

While solar-powered roads generate electricity from sunlight, they are not the most environmentally friendly option. The main problem is that they are not as efficient as panels that are installed at an angle or on tracking systems. This means that the environmental benefits may not completely offset the costs associated with production.

Additionally, maintenance of the roads may result in parts that cannot be recycled, creating more waste. Asphalt is easily recycled and has been this way for years, which is a much more sustainable practice.

UNIQUE’s Green Initiative

While progress toward energy efficiency is always positive, it is important for researchers to recognize these practical, everyday flaws. The research on solar panel roads is an exciting advance for the paving industry, but testing and redesign are necessary. Until then, though, traditional asphalt roads will continue to get the job done.

Read more about the energy efficiency initiative from UNIQUE Paving Materials, which has been a part of our paving solutions business from the start. UNIQUE’s pavement repair materials and cold mix asphalt are sustainable, long-lasting solutions to road damage.

Here are a few of our favorite asphalt products that are also sustainable:

Contact Us Today for More Information

Traditional asphalt roads have been the standard choice for road infrastructure because they are reliable, cost-efficient, easy to construct, and better for the planet.

Contact us today with any questions about asphalt or why solar-powered roads are unsustainable.

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About the author

Becky Dunlavey

With over 10 years of experience, I wear many hats at UNIQUE Paving Materials. In addition to managing our multimedia marketing efforts and coordinating trade shows and regional events, working with the sales and customer service departments has allowed me to gain a multifaceted knowledge of the industry.

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