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Solar Freakin’ Roadways- 5 Concerns Analyzed

solarroad

Solar Roadways, I know most people have been in support of the new blossoming technology and I’m happy to be a part of that [at least in support]. However, no matter where I turn there are a handful of common concerns that are brought up against the technology. Well today I wanted to go over five of the main concerns. I also wanted to take a peek into what the future could look like, with solar roads.

1. Roads wear down, how the f%^@k are these supposed to handle any better?

I’m actually surprised that questions like this keep coming up. Scott Brusaw has twenty years of engineering experience behind him, as an engineer myself you should know that this would be one of the first problems that would have to be solved before you would even think about this problem seriously.

The results? Right from the FAQ:

The biggest concern for testing was the structural integrity of our panels. We had to make sure that our panels had enough traction, strength, and toughness to support heavy trucks on our nation’s highways.

We had our glass traction tested, load tested, and impact resistance tested at university civil engineering labs around the country. It passed all tests with flying colors.

Also keep in mind that they load tested the damn things, a funny question from the FAQ was if it could hold a tank on the roadway, the response was

A M1A2 Abrams tank weighs about 68 tons, or 136,000 pounds. That’s a little over half of what our Solar Road Panels have passed load testing for.

Bolded the important part for anyone who might miss it. Also I found out from that question he is a fellow Marine, very cool.

So yes, I understand the big fear and of course it will wear. Inevitably all things will need to be replaced. But read on because that is where this project really shines.

2. What about Cost?

What about it? Look out your window… go ahead, I’ll be here when you get back. See that road outside, it’s just sitting there, lazy, not doing anything. We might as well put it to work for us. Most people want a phone to multitask now, why should our roads be any different?

The cost of setting up the system would be offset by the amount of electricity that would be produced by the roads. So you might be all for lazy roads, but I for one want my road to get a freaking job and it looks like they just got hired.

The modular nature of the road allows it to be replaced individually, this means that when one wears or goes out, pop it out and put a new one in. Simple, unlike the way we do roads now [ever drive over a pot hole, or a crappy patch job?].

But wait, there’s more!

We would not have to shut down the roads like we do now to repave, just shut down a lane for as long as it would take to remove one and replace it. Paying people to repair roads cost money too, imagine how much will be saved from it taking less time. Also think about it, the road would be a lot smoother just popping broken parts out and putting new ones down.

Solar

3. Ever try to walk on glass, imagine how slippery they would be when it gets wet.

This is another, what I would like to call, LOOK UP WHAT AN ENGINEER DOES question. Mostly because it is a dumb question that would be answered right away by the engineer before proceeding on to anything else. Seriously, one of the first problems with design, if not the first.

The solution? Well I would pull from the FAQ again, but I’ll write my own. The glass has texture, which makes it rough. This will allow a vehicle to stop just as well, if not better than typical roadways. The freaking things melt snow, I mean how much better than normal road do you get? In fact, the same goes for: walking, biking, sliding, cartwheeling, or hoverboarding, nothing would change but the material under your feet. Sure it would take some getting used to, I mean come on we’ve been staring at the same color of sidewalk since any of us were born [most likely], but that shouldn’t deter us.

4. Decentralization=bad, costs go up.

I actually had a comment saying decentralization was bad. Wrong, I hate to say it, but WRONG WRONG WRONG!!! So why is this a good thing?

Well remember a time the power went out? You wouldn’t if we had solar freakin’ roadways! Centralized power is horrible, transmission lines, power converters, etc. all energy eaters we don’t want that for the eco friendly future.

Centralized power is why you have those ugly wires going from a pole in your yard to your house.  It is why you have to worry when a huge snowstorm hits that you will lose power, or worse, downed power lines.

As far as cost goes, who owns the road? The government? No, it is state, city, county, etc. the system is already decentralized cost doesn’t go up because of that.

Decentralization saves money. Mostly because you don’t have to pay for shipping. If we make solar freakin’ roads locally we won’t have to pay to have them shipped halfway around the world or even from another state. You know what that does to the local economy? I’ll tell you, it creates jobs.

5. Why not just have solar panels on homes instead?

Great idea, you’re buying… right? Solar roadways have the advantage here too. They will be paid for by whoever owns the road, sidewalk, parking lot, etc. This is good because there is more space out there, then on my roof, trust me I’ve checked. It also means I don’t have to fork over a whole lot of money for an investment that won’t pay me back right away.

Doing it this way also creates jobs, the American economy [okay world economy] is in the toilet. The fastest way to pick it up out of the toilet [it’s okay, you go first] is for the government to hand you a shovel and say dig. Or in this case hand you a solar panel and say build.

It’s how we overcame the great depression [any history buffs remember the alphabet soup programs?]. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and fix our infrastructure, we need this, our future needs this. So why would you be against creating jobs that will pay well and are self sustaining [the roads need to be worked on often, I mean look at our current road system now].

Sandpoint Sidewalk - small

The future

As a fellow engineer I was mulling over the implications something like this could have. Right now scientists have developed a supercapacitor that can be used as building material. As in, you could use it to handle dynamic and static loads [or for you non-engineer types, you can put a lot of weight on it and it will work just fine].

Imagine a world where your house is a giant battery, charged by the roads you drive on. Supercapacitors store far less energy than a battery does, but scale it up to car or building size and you have a lot of energy potential.

Electric cars have two big problems, the first is range. People freak out when you can’t just fill up and go, most electric cars have roughly 180 mile range before you are out of juice. It scares people, even though 90% of people will never drive that far in one trip [outside of traveling].

The second problem is the battery. I mean, come on batteries are nasty, they cannot be recycled very easily, and they are made of things I wouldn’t want to feed my cats [okay there  are a lot of things I wouldn’t feed them, sue me].

Imagine a world where your car is charged by mutual induction [a fancy way of saying charging just by touching it]. You could almost completely eliminate the need for a battery in your electric car [since you would never be away from the power source]. The weight savings alone would improve performance, not to mention the supercapacitor frame the chassis could be built from, for when you want that extra power.

Say bye-bye to ever running out of juice, with electric roads as long as you stay on the road, your electric car will never read anything but full. The substantially smaller battery needed would also mean that the high current cost of an electric car would be brought way, way down. Making an eco friendly technology even more eco friendly.

So what part of this are you against? The job creation? The eco friendly? The saving the economy? The putting the freakin’ road to work? The better road systems? Or maybe it’s making the electric car cheaper and better for the environment?

Artist's rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho - Home of Solar Roadways Graphic design by Sam Cornett

Artist’s rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho – Home of Solar Roadways
Graphic design by Sam Cornett

Well, I guess you can’t make everyone happy…

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Sources:
Westover A.S., Tian J.W., Bernath S., Oakes L., Edwards R., Shabab F.N., Chatterjee S., Anilkumar A.V. & Pint C.L. (2014). A Multifunctional Load-Bearing Solid-State Supercapacitor., Nano letters, PMID:

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14 responses

  1. Sounds cool, but here are my concerns:
    Northern climates – snow cover, damage from snow plows, frost heaves, and of course pot holes: water freezing and expands in the smallest cracks.
    Earthquake zones – how would these fair in places where the ground is constantly shifting (even a centimeter per year can add up).. buckle and break.

    May 29, 2014 at 9:05 am

    • Well nothing you can do about earthquakes, I mean look at road now.

      As far as the snow, well these will melt the snow. I know I only mentioned it briefly, but these will heat so the snow will melt and you wont have slippery roads or need for snow plows.

      These are modular so if you got a pothole it would take just a few minutes to pop it out and replace it. Assuming the only problem is the glass top, then they recycle the glass they use to make it with [your everyday normal glass which they heat treat] so it would be very easy to pop off the glass, replace it, and reuse the panel again.

      Assuming they need to use snow plows, well they would hold up just as well if not better than the average road, but again they are modular so replacement would be much quicker and simpler [see more cost effective] than the road we use now. Plus, since the road is modular it has more give than your normal road so the water expanding won’t have the same effect on the modular units as it does on a giant solid piece of road.

      May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

      • johnpile

        Sounds good.. except the “these will melt the snow” part. They tried that with heated driveways a while back… and didn’t think it all the way through. No place for the melted water to go… creates an extreme hazard. Of course I’m talking about northern climates where temps dip to -40 or colder.

        Always love a good idea… but seems best for the temperate locals. Seems like a great idea for California. Make it happen.

        May 29, 2014 at 11:26 am

      • It probably will be better suited for the warmer parts of the US, but I don’t understand where the water would go part. I mean roads now funnel the water to the drains [ideally anyway] so I don’t see how it would be a problem. Then again it sounds like you have first hand experience with this, so I think I will defer to you on this one.

        May 29, 2014 at 11:30 am

      • johnpile

        Just to explain:
        The water can’t go down the gutters because the gutters are full of frozen water as well. As it is, this happens now for a few days every spring when the sun melts the road surface but the gutters are still shaded and thus frozen. Causes significant flooding.

        May 29, 2014 at 11:47 am

      • Interesting, I think I will shoot scott a message and see what he says about this. I don’t know how much he knows about the problem so you might have pointed out something that needs to be worked out. Thanks for clarifying since unless you live in this type of climate you won’t know the problem. He’s in Idaho, but I don’t know how bad the weather gets there. Thanks again, these types of questions are exactly what is needed to make sure this project works correctly from the start.

        May 29, 2014 at 11:54 am

    • John Pile from Champlain College? Funny running into you in this corner of the interwebs.

      Legitimate concerns, for sure, but the roadway isn’t planned to be as simple as plopping these hex-tiles down over the ground – the entire design includes channels for the meltwater to run off down channels where wires are carried. (ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU at about 2:35)

      As for earthquakes, tectonic movement and freezing expansion: I would imagine that the hex-design would stand up better than asphalt against small movement, as gaps could exist between the tiles without the breakage you see in asphalt. Anything more extreme than that and it would damage current roadways anyway.

      That’s the stuff civil engineers think about in their sleep.

      May 29, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      • Yep and that is why I am a mechanical engineer, apparently I don’t think about that sort of stuff.Thanks for coming to help.

        May 29, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    • I tried to reply to the appropriate comment, but WordPress wouldn’t have any of that.

      As a New Englander, the drainage from the snow melting off the roadway shouldn’t be a problem. Most rural areas have good drainage to begin with. The panels require their own structure to run power down the sides, and extra drainage can be built in when the solar roadways are installed.

      Admittedly, New England doesn’t usually reach -40F, I suppose things will be trickier when the ground is 100% frozen. A heated drain system may have to be implemented to use solar roadways in such extreme climates. Would the panels even generate enough power that far north?

      May 29, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      • Even if they don’t produce enough power to heat the road the power could be diverted there. Just because they wouldn’t be adding to the energy supply “pool” doesn’t mean we can’t use the extra energy the road would make to make sure that they are safer.

        Sorry about the wordpress issues, never fun stuff.

        May 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

  2. Hailey

    Number five is the single biggest issue, and poorly argued for. The response to “is there actually a market to support this project?” is “the government will pay for it!”

    May 31, 2014 at 2:48 am

    • No the response to how will this get paid for is, the government will pay for it.If you remember your history that is how we got out of the great depression, you need to spend money to make money.

      There doesn’t need to be a response to is there a market for this. Everyone wants electricity, this will lower costs to the consumer, make it more reliable and in the process drastically cut greenhouse gasses. In fact the market for greenhouse gas cutting technologies has never been better.

      The government funds the project, sells the roads off to the appropriate groups [namely cities or whomever would own the road], it wouldn’t be the first time a project similar to this has been done, it would just be the first time in recent history.

      May 31, 2014 at 10:48 am

  3. superkuh

    1. Max load tests don’t tell you anything about wear and tear of a road. It is absurd to try to mantain a translucent surface that is driven on.
    2. The cost of putting solar panels absolutely any other place is cheaper and gives you better power output.
    3. It might melt the snow in Nebraska or farther south. It’ll do nothing for northern climates.
    4. “when a huge snowstorm hits that you will lose power, or worse, downed power lines.” Those same power lines would be the ones providing the energy to melt the snow off the roads that are currently covered in snow and snowmelt slush.

    So what part of this are you against? I’m against the completely arbitrary choice of putting solar panels in the harshest possible environment. I am against the weirdly active marketing team of Solar Roadways spreading unsubstantiated claims about durability of translucent surfaces and melting capability.

    Lets build solar panel arrays… but let us do it where it makes sense.

    Do you really believe in this stuff or are you just happy that it is controversial enough to draw page views and comments?

    June 2, 2014 at 5:53 am

    • Well let’s do this in reverse order, I very much do believe in this “stuff”. As an engineer myself I can understand how this would work, what I don’t understand is why so many people raise the same concerns over and over. That was the whole reason for this post to begin with. So lets try this again.

      4. No, those power lines would integrated into the road, how do you think we would get power from the road without somehow integrating the power lines into the road itself. If you had read more about them you would already know this.

      3. There is a unicorn on the moon, I know this because I just do. You need to test the technology and adjust it for different climates. If you [again] would have read about them you would know that these can produce substantial amounts of heat, maybe they won’t do anything more than the regular road, maybe they will. That is what testing is for, but it’s okay I will assume that you know what you are talking about more than the guy who designed these, you know the guy who has been an electrical engineer for 20 years or so.

      2. It isn’t about cost, it is about space. Why don’t we have solar panels everywhere? Because no one wants to give up that kind of space and lets face it if the government decided one day to give everyone free solar panels for the roofs of every home in the US people would have problems with it, serious problems. So lets build solar panel arrays, when you find more space than the road offers that isn’t owned and no one will have a problem with using as a solar array then we can talk.

      1. You are correct max load tests don’t tell you anything about wear and tear on a road, hardness tests do. If you had bothered to read about the roads you would know that these will wear no different or better than the road you drive on now. Wear will not cause it to become less translucent and [once more] if you read more about the roads you would know that dirt will have a minimal effect on the solar panel efficiency.

      I think what you are against is actually reading about the technology. You are assuming you know better and that would be fine if you knew something everyone else didn’t, but you just reiterated the same concerns that I have tried to answer.

      I get plenty of traffic without mentioning solar roadways so that is just a strawman argument. Please be my guest, point out the fatal flaw to the technology, but at least be original. I would suggest actually doing some reading though, because there are people who design things like this for a living working on this project. I highly doubt you are even remotely qualified to tell them they are wrong, but if you are going to troll, be original.

      June 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

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