The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has decided to investigate the plausibility of employing solar panels on its roadways with a pilot project that will convert a section of sidewalk at the historic Route 66 Welcome Center off I-44 in Conway.
“We want to start kind of smaller and just be able to test the initial application and see how it installs,” said James Pflum, resident engineer with MoDOT’s Kansas City District. “Right now, it’s kind of baby steps. It’s testing the sidewalk and seeing what works and what opportunities we have and what questions we need to answer. But from there, we would go to parking lots and then hopefully to roadways.”
State officials see it as a way to possibly save money and generate revenue from the more than 33,890 miles of highways the state maintains. The LED lights in the solar panels could replace striping and other highway markings. The heating elements could melt snow and ice. The panels also can generate energy.
“We are not necessarily looking at if the roads can generate wholesale power, rather whether they can generate enough to power a rest stop,” Pflum said.
By the end of this year, crews will install solar panels on a roughly 12-ft x 20-ft area of the main sidewalk, said Laurel McKean, assistant district engineer with MoDOT’s Southwest District in Springfield.
Transportation officials will help test the panels to see how they handle freeze-thaw conditions, how much energy they produce and how effective they are at melting snow and ice. Testing also will check whether LED lights in the panels can take the place of traditional pavement striping.
“There’s a lot of things that by putting the panels on the sidewalk we are going to be able to test to help them look forward to their next phase of development,” said McKean, who is leading the project.