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Asphalt Rules: Why Solar Power Roads Are Unsustainable

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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, it poses 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.

solar powered road

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.

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.

Snow plows 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.

While progress towards 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 Unique Paving Materials’ energy efficiency initiative, 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.