How Solar Panel Highways Work

Disadvantages of Solar Panel Highways

Is this a realistic plan or will it prove to be too difficult and costly to implement?
Is this a realistic plan or will it prove to be too difficult and costly to implement?
Courtesy of Dan Walden

Sure, roads made of solar panels sounds like a great idea and one that could possibly get this country truly running on solar power; however, just how feasible is this plan?

For one, it would be quite costly. Each panel costs about $7,000 to build, and the plan calls for billions of them to cover the roadways [source:]. Installation would take huge amounts of time and money, and so would training crews to maintain them properly. Most likely, it would take several years before the electricity generated by the panels would recoup their own cost. For this reason, the company suggests smaller-scale projects are the best place to start.

Then there's the question of durability. Our roads take lots of punishment from cars, trucks, motorcycles and tractor trailers, not to mention the fact that they could be damaged in traffic accidents. How would these glass panels hold up against that kind of punishment? And if we depend on the solar cells for traffic signals and power for electric cars, what happens if the sunlight collectors become damaged?

In addition, the cost of repairing these solar panels is likely more expensive than it would be for fixing ordinary, asphalt roads. The company says it could utilize a type of self-cleaning glass to keep the surface clear of dirt and grime, but this process is yet unproven.

Then there's the big problem with solar energy: cloudy days. Current solar power technology is very inefficient -- in fact, most solar panels only convert about 14 percent of available energy into electricity [source: Northwestern University]. And on days when sunlight isn't readily available, like during the long winters in many parts of the country, you have to wonder where the power would come from. This is why solar energy is considered to be only one type of renewable energy source rather than the sole source of power -- it's difficult to rely on.

Despite these drawbacks, there's no doubt that solar panel highways are a unique and groundbreaking idea. It's the kind of thinking we need to do in order to get ourselves off of our fossil fuel addiction and running on a more eco-friendly power source. So in a few years, you just may find yourself driving on glass solar panels instead of asphalt.

For more information about solar power and other related topics, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Carney, Dan. "Prius goes for more energy-saving firsts." May 18, 2009. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Jacquot, Jeremy Elton. "Solar Roadways: Energy-Generating Roads Made Out of Glass and Solar Cells." Aug. 20, 2007. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Northwestern University. "How efficient are solar panels?" (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Rivera, Dylan. "Oregon installs first highway solar project." The Oregonian. Aug. 7, 2008. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Solar Roadways. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • "Solar panel roads could solve energy crisis." Sept. 8, 2009. (Nov. 11, 2009)