As our increasingly smart cities develop new infrastructure that connects seamlessly to the Internet of Things and our intelligent vehicles grow increasingly autonomous, innovation is driving advances in many other related sectors, including road networks, energy management and sustainable environmental development. And one of the most interesting developments across these sectors is the upcoming rise of solar-powered road networks.

The first application of this new technology was tested in Holland on a high-tech cycling path in 2014. The “SolaRoad” Project was based on the use of photovoltaic cells covered by a layer of thick, tempered glass to protect the solar panels. The photovoltaic cells under the “glass tarmac” absorb sunlight all day long and produce over 9000 KWh per year, more than enough power to run the road’s lighting system and electronic information boards.

Inspired by this pioneering work, American inventors Julie and Scott Brusaw developed a special type of asphalt integrated directly with energy-producing photovoltaic cells that is on course to revolutionise global mobility. As a matter of fact, the project has raised great interest and collected over US$2 million in funding to advance from the theoretical to the practical stage.

Initial tests on this new photovoltaic asphalt indicate that it is just as efficient as traditional tarmac in terms of security and lifespan. Moreover, this new road surface system allows roads to be heated to avoid the formation and accumulation of ice and snow, further boosting road safety, as well as housing led lights that can be custom-tailored to change road lines and signage. The tempered-glass road surface is also impervious to potholes and summer heat, and is set to produce energy in excess of all its needs. Yet another important advantage, is represented by the fact that environmentally-friendly electric vehicles, including trucks, can be charged via induction while they drive, practically never needing to stop to “refuel.”

In the United States, this new system will be applied to segments of the renowned Route 66 starting in 2017, thanks to an agreement between the State of Missouri and the Solar Roadways start-up.

The promise that this new road surface holds is truly revolutionary: if all 260,000 kilometres of United States highways were to be paved with this new smart asphalt system, it would generate three times the required energy production for the entire country!