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Could we have Solar Roads?

Roads and associated infrastructure like car parks take up huge amounts of space and often, particularly outside of peak times – they aren’t used all that often. One couple think that perhaps we could put the roads to better use and also generate electricity from them and they’ve even come up with a prototype.

Solar Roadways is a modular paving system of solar panels that can withstand the heaviest of trucks (250,000 pounds). These Solar Road Panels can be installed on roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, playgrounds… literally any surface under the sun. They pay for themselves primarily through the generation of electricity, which can power homes and businesses connected via driveways and parking lots. A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole (http://solarroadways.com/numbers.shtml). They have many other features as well, including: heating elements to stay snow/ice free, LEDs to make road lines and signage, and attached Cable Corridor to store and treat stormwater and provide a “home” for power and data cables. EVs will be able to charge with energy from the sun (instead of fossil fuels) from parking lots and driveways and after a roadway system is in place, mutual induction technology will allow for charging while driving.

I think the idea of solar roads is quite an interesting one and there seems to be a lot of benefits from it. However there are probably a lot of issues to overcome yet including that right now the costs to doing so are probably astronomical for anything of scale. What I do like is that people are starting to think about how we can use our road space differently. It’s a massive public resource and if we can get more value out of it with something like this then that surely benefits everyone.

And then there’s this version

15 comments to Could we have Solar Roads?

  • I like the idea except for one thing – cars aren’t actually economical. They equate to a huge amount of resource used for very little actual use (IIRC, on average they spend 96% of the time going nowhere).

  • Logan

    Given the rate that solar power efficiency is improving, committing to using current technology as a roading surface will only ensure obsolescence within a few years of use, compounded by the expense which will make councils reluctant to bin it and replace it with something better.
    Our nation’s system of energy generation is far cleaner than America’s, and so the impetus for this kind of product is far less.

  • Harvey Specter

    Unlikely to be economical in NZ but that doesn’t mean they should be completely ruled out (NZ has pretty low cost/quality roads in general plus we are already over 80% renewable energy – US still uses over 30% coal!).

    But they could be useful for intersections

    – different layouts for morning and afternoon peak (ie. bus lanes, or removal of right hand turn, not a complete reconfiguration).
    – intersections also require a source of power for lights and normally their are businesses in the area which is good for distributed power compared to feeding back into the grid.

    Or parts of carparks (the road bits, not the bits under cars) which would feed directly into the building the carpark services.

    Plus, they are solar FREAKIN’ roadways

    • MFD

      What is the mechanism by which this is going to be a source of power for lights?

      • Harvey Specter

        They’re Soalr Freaken’ Roadways!

        I meant traffic lights by the way and associated electrics) which maybe the more correct answer to your question. Not nighttime lights.

  • john.keenan

    http://www.equities.com/editors-desk/stocks/technology/why-the-solar-roadways-project-on-indiegogo-is-actually-really-silly

    I think this is a very well reasoned critique of how unfortunately this great idea is well a little silly.

    • I initially thought this was reasonably convincing when I went looking for a skeptical perspective. However, it then became clear that they didn’t really bother to read much about the project. They are eventually hoping that it *might* be possible to use for actual roads, but their plan is to establish it as a parking lots, footpath option. And most of that article is directed at how stupid it would be for actual roads.

      • john.keenan

        I think the article did touch on parking lots and footpaths and that even they were not optimal. It talked about how there is so much roof space at big box retailers (parking lot shopping centres) that is far easier, cheaper and better to use for solar power – efficient systems track the sun during the day not lie flat on the ground.
        But that is the thing, it is such a powerful idea at first. I think people can’t see the economics… but each to their own, wouldn’t bet on any wide uptake of this technology in the near future.

        • Harvey Specter

          As I said economically unviable but if you are using the smart features, they could serve a purpose.

          • It’s the high-tech features that make the solar roads viable. Basically, if you want the high tech features then you may as well go for the solar power as well. I also suspect that maintenance on the solar roads will be cheaper than on normal roads as well. Far easier and quicker to lift up a one mass produced module and replace it than it is to dig up a section of tar seal and replace that.

  • MrV

    If this idea is actually useful, they should commercialise it in the form of using it on peoples driveways. This would allow a higher degree of realworld testing.

  • MFD

    If this is the solution, what is the problem?
    From a PV perspective there are numerous compromises and several from a road surface perspective. It seems to have many functions, all of which it performs sub-optimally. File under “curiosities” and move on…

  • Felix Alexander

    You might not have noticed how badly designed most commercial and retail buildings are, so that even when it’s broad daylight they have their lights on. My office, for instance, the external walls (two sides) are made entirely of glass, which would let too much light and heat in; so they’ve been tinted so much that you need to the lights on for most of the year.

    • MFD

      I don’t doubt that your office (and numerous others) are badly designed but how is solar roading going to address that shortcoming? It seems that you already have a solution of sorts.

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