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After years of development and millions of dollars (including government funding), all of the solar roadways installed to date do not produce cost-effective energy production

Are Solar Roadways Roads to Nowhere?


By —— Bio and Archives--June 14, 2018

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Are Solar Roadways Roads to Nowhere?
Solar Roadways incorporated is a start-up company in Sandpoint, Idaho aiming to develop solar powered road panels to form a highway that provides energy. The plan is to replace the repaving of a road with some sort of processing that will leave it in a condition to accept hexagonal solar panels and their associated wiring and networking needs. 1

Some folks criticize the scheme since panels on roads wouldn’t be tilted to follow the sun, which makes them inefficient, would often be covered by cars during periods when the sun is out, and wouldn’t be capable of serving as a road for long.

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You’re meant to drive over it, after all. Could it possibly collect enough energy to be worthwhile asks Neel Patel. 2

The system went into operation on March 22, 2017. By April of this year it had been in operation for 378 days, during which time it had generated about 246 kilowatt hours of electricity. And at this rate, the total of 246 kilowatt hours of electricity that cost $4,450,000 is worth about $36.86. This should pay for itself in about 124,000 years. 3

One observer noted, “The Sandpoint, Idaho test bed wasn’t even on a road., it was on a sidewalk at some sort of town square. It couldn’t even stand up to the wear and tear of people walking on it. I imagine it would have broken down even quicker if it had been on an actual road.”

Another reported, “Living relatively close to Sandpoint, I can see a few problems—mainly lack of sunlight, lots of clouds, rain and snow and ice, but a wonderful ski hill close to town.” 3

Critics of the technology had started for years that it was impractical. Extreme Tech worked out that to cover all of American highways with solar panels would cost $56 trillion. Even more limited applications of the technology would encounter certain limitations. For instance, the effectiveness of solar panels diminishes if they become dirty. To combat this problem, Solar Roadways had proposed using self-cleaning glass, which uses oleo-and hydrophobic materials to ensure that dirt and water don’t stick. This has the potential to make road surfaces slippery for cars. 4

Another big issue that some people will raise if solar rods ever go vogue is safety reports Neel Patel. Solar roads mean driving on transparent surfaces. This could mean smooth glass, or something that mixes rock and glassy materials. The transparency required for light surfaces reduces the amount of gravel and rock that could give the road enough friction to help with smooth driving. The more glassy materials you add to the road, the more you risk cars losing traction on the surface, especially in rain or snow. 2

Examples From Abroad

Billed as the ‘world’s first solar powered road’ and called “Wattway,” France has installed, near the village of Tourouvre-au-Perche, solar panels on the driving surface of a 0.6 mile stretch of road used by 2,000 motorists per day. The panels are covered by a transparent coating to protect them from automobile weight and road wear.

Arthur Robinson reports, “It is claimed that the road will be able to power the street lights in this 3,400 resident village. Based on the $5.2 million cost, the claimed output of 767 kilowatt hours per day, and 10 cents per kilowatt hour, this installation would pay for itself in 185 years, providing that there were no maintenance costs and the roadway and panels last that long. This also assumes no interest or lost opportunity cost for the $5.2 million. It is evident that most of this money will never be returned in electricity value.” 5

In the UK, solar panels were made out of cement on the M6 and M1. The panels all crumbled over time and had to be expensively dug out and replaced with tarmac. 3

Back in 2014, a 70 meter solar bicycle path was built in the suburbs of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, at the utterly insane cost of 3 million euros. In its first year it produced about 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity—enough to power an average home. At the current wholesale price in the UK, that same amount of money would have bought enough electricity to power about 21,000 homes for a year. 6

 

Summary

After years of development and millions of dollars (including government funding), all of the solar roadways installed to date do not produce cost-effective energy production. The roads are expensive and produce far less electricity than could be produced if the money was used on a solar farm, or simply by placing them by the side of the road. 7

To produce enough power with a solar panel you need sufficient light. Researchers have discovered that the optimal way to harness sun energy is to track the sun or at the minimum, angle the panels to the direction of the sun. Flat panels laying on the surface are technically feasible but extremely inefficient. The flat panels will cause a 60 percent power loss compared to the tracking panels. All of this added with the wear and tear of panels due to traffic will deteriorate the efficiency even further. 8

References

  1. David Forbes, “Why the solar roadway is a terrible idea,” jalopnik.com, May 30, 2014
  2. Neel V. Patel, “What is the point of a solar road?”, slate.com, December 28, 2017
  3. Willis Eschenbach, “The road to hell is paved with solar panels—‘solar road’ fails miserably,” wattsupwiththat.com, April 4, 2018
  4. Erin Mundahl, “A dark rode ahead for solar roadways?”, insidesources.com, November 2, 2017
  5. Arthur B Robinson, “Stark raving mad,” Access to Energy, December 2016
  6. Sebastian Anthony, “World’s first solar road opens in France: it;‘s ridiculously expensive,” arstechnica.com, December 23, 2016
  7. Maverick Baker, “Solar roadways: an engineering failure,” Interesting Engineering, May 18, 2017
  8. Aayssha Arif, “Are solar roadways an engineering failure?”, wonderfulengineering.com

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Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.


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