The future of military transportation: Solar panel roadways

By Maj. Jamie R. SchwandtMarch 19, 2019

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What if the military had a way to solve an engineering and logistics problem with one solution? What if we could not only build better roads but also produce extra power at the same time? The future of transportation is not solely autonomous vehicles but also solar roadways. Solar roadways replace asphalt roads with solar panels designed to generate solar energy. The energy can be used to generate power for anything connected to the road, even autonomous vehicles traveling on it.

In his article in the January-February 2015 issue of the "International Journal of Engineering Research and General Science," Er. Rajeev Ranjan writes that solar roadways can save the world from energy crises and climate change. Ranjan also posits that the solar roadway "will also make all-electric vehicles more practical. All additional power, unused by the panels themselves is sent to electricity consumers."

Ranjan describes solar roadway panels as having three basic layers. The road surface layer, the top layer, must be tough enough for handling today's heaviest loads under the worst conditions. The center layer, the electronics layer, contains a microprocessor board for sensing loads and traffic on the surface. The base layer collects energy from the sun and distributes the power.

Ranjan discusses numerous benefits that solar panel roadways offer. Illuminated lights and traffic control would offer improved visibility. The roadways enable traffic-control messages that could be spelled out on the road surface. Surface detection of animals would offer a unique warning system to drivers. Solar panels can heat themselves to melt snow and ice, offering safer driving conditions.

The clean and renewable energy the roadways could provide would allow us to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. The roadways also would provide a huge power source because highways exist everywhere. A smart grid with decentralized power could replace all current centralized power stations that can be deliberately targeted and shut down by terrorist organizations.

Solar panel roadways could provide the U.S. military a significant advantage. By building road panels using the three layers, the military could provide a transportation system and a power generation system with one technology. I propose that the military look at using this technology to make roads quickly and generate power at the same time.

Second, solar panel roadways could provide immediate intelligence as to who is traveling on the road. We could track convoys and determine if an enemy is using our roadway.

Third, solar panel roadways could be used to power autonomous vehicles. At some point, autonomous vehicles will become the norm, so why not create a way to easily power these vehicles?

Fourth, solar panel roadways produce and distribute clean, renewable electricity. They might even eliminate the need for fuel completely.

Just as with any new technology, there are challenges with solar panel roadways. Ranjan points out that "initially, the startup and maintenance costs of building such roadways and parking lots may be extremely high. Another issue to deal with is the efficiency of solar panels."

Yet, even with these challenges, we should move forward with this technology because if we don't, then others will. In fact, China is moving forward with this technology. According to the "New York Times" article, "Free Power From Freeways? China is Testing Roads Paved With Solar Panels," published on June 11, 2018, two Chinese companies are developing solar panel roadways for a large, state-owned highway construction and management company that operates the large highway system.

Solar panel roadways will provide corporations and businesses with a huge advantage. However, we should not ignore the benefits this technology could bring to the military. The U.S. military should take full advantage of these roadways while they are still in their infancy.


Maj. Jamie Schwandt is an Army Reserve logistics officer. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Fort Hays State University and a doctorate in education from Kansas State University. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and is a Lean Six Sigma master black belt.


This article is an Army Sustainment product.