SOLAR FREAKIN’ ROADWAYS!!!

SOLAR FREAKIN’ ROADWAYS!!! April 29, 2015

…seem like a pretty good idea:

I’m sure there are people out there who mysteriously and instinctively oppose this. But for the life of me I can’t understand why.

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  • I can’t say I necessarily oppose this, but as with the email I received from the dying millionaire philanthropist in Nigeria, I have to think that what sounds too good to be true, usually is.

    • John Seymour

      Robert, don’t waste your time with the Nigerian philanthropist, he said of all the people who responded he liked me best and is giving the money to me. (Boy, wasn’t my boss surprised when I gave him the news.)

  • John Seymour

    I agree with Robert. The video crashed before it got to the end, so maybe they eventually got to the cost part, but I doubt it. I doubt it because (1) when people start touting the “it creates jobs” line, it usually means “this isn’t even close to be economic, but I really want it ’cause it’s cool” and somehow they forget to mention all the jobs that would be lost in existing industries, as well as the jobs that might be created if we were to spend our limited resources more efficiently, (2) if this makes economic sense, they wouldn’t need a grass roots effort to build support – they would have investors lining up at the door. My guess is that not only is the original install cost dramatically higher (by orders of magnitude) than conventional roadways, and maintenance costs also much higher, but there are likely other aspects they are being less than honest about. For example, they say “it meets traction standards” but what does that mean? Does it have more or less traction than asphalt and concrete. I suspect if it did, they would say so. So it meets a mysterious standard, but is likely less than existing materials, but that means more and worse accidents, with greater casualties – an aspect of cost that it seems worth considering.
    Finally, there is the entire enviro-speak sales pitch. But am I opposed? No, I don’t have enough information to be opposed. I also don’t have enough information to be supportive. But I am dubious, perhaps instinctively so. Hopefully that’s not too mysterious.

  • Irksome1

    There are plenty of prudential reasons to be skeptical of “solar freakin roadways” that extend beyond the merely mysterious and instinctive.

    http://youtu.be/H901KdXgHs4

    • Pete the Greek

      Yeah, you lost me at $20 trillion. How many of those safe, reliable French type nuclear power plants could be built with that money?

      What REALLY makes me hate this (yes, irrationally), is the narration and the STUPID ‘WHOA!’ drawings and attempts to be ‘hip’. It’s like listening to a baby boomer trying to sound cool while trying to sell timeshares to a c-class ski resort.

      It has all the stink of those late night “YOU CAN MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS WITH NO WORK, OVERNIGHT, IN REAL ESTATE!!!” infomercials.

      I guess there might be enough gullible people, we’ll see.

  • MClark7

    Hey, they are shaped like hexagons. You could put lots of small ones on a picnic table and then play wargames or D&D on them! Instead of playing chess in the park, you could play Panzer Leader! You’d use your tablet or phone to control the table and store the game from day to day.

    Agree that they probably take more brain power and training to install and maintain than asphalt. But still, we’d have lots of electricity to power our desktops to play World of Tanks!

    • Chad Toney

      I’m thinking a Memoir ’44: Overlord scenario would be great fun at the neighborhood Walmart parking lot.

      • MClark7

        Or the Great Patriotic War! I looked around and found out you really can’t see the LEDs well in bright sunlight (at least not yet). Too bad.

  • obijuan

    Who’s the greater fool, the fool with the foolish idea or the fool who parrots the foolish idea?

  • JmcBoots

    because our roads are already so cheap and easy to repair now?

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Considering the toxic wastes poisoning the western Chinese to meet the solar cell demand today, this should pretty much wipe them out.

    • Pete the Greek

      *counting down until you are accused of denying America’s “Can Do!” spirit.*

    • Smithgift

      Serious: The chemicals involved in solar panel manufacture is my reason for disliking them as a “green” technology.

      For example, one of those chemicals is Chlorine Triflouride, a chemical that is literally a better oxidizer than oxygen. In other words, it can set concrete and asbestos on fire. Not exactly something I’d like to see spilled anywhere.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    It’s a cool idea and I wouldn’t oppose developing it, but there are some potential issues that they gloss over in the video. Here’s a good article that goes through a number of them: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/solar-freakin-roadways/

    But basically:

    – How expensive are they to replace? Certainly more than a chunk of asphalt.
    – What about theft? No one wants to steal asphalt… but those things are cool!
    – How well do they handle abuse of heavy trucks, etc over long periods of time?
    – Extreme weather…. will the solar powered heaters keep up with northern blizzards? Northern latitudes already don’t get as much sun, so will there be enough power to keep up? Will the necessary plows then damage them more? What about ice heaves which happen below the surface, away from the heaters?
    – Dirt/road spills will block the solar panels and need to be cleaned.
    – And of course… cost!!

    Also, if we want to use the area of our roadways to generate solar power, it would seem to be a lot easier to just put a solar powered roof over the roads. No need to worry about damage from roads then, and this would also keep snow off the roads.

    So its a really cool idea, and they should absolutely explore it. But there are many considerations and some of the problems it solves seem to have easier solutions.

    • Pete the Greek

      “What about theft? No one wants to steal asphalt… but those things are cool!”
      – This is something very few people have thought about, but is VERY important. As a property owner who, during the rehab of an apartment building, was set back thousands of dollars in expenses because thieves tore part of the inside up for what would have been, no kidding, only about $20 worth of copper, the sheer pettiness of thieves is something few people really understand. And this stuff will just be literally LAYING in the road.

      Or, just ask anyone who drives a large van who walked to their parking spot only to discover that someone had taken a battery powered sawzall to the exhaust to get at their catalytic converter.

      ON EDIT: “No one wants to steal asphalt.” – You’ll laugh, but they DO! Or rather, people routinely steal road building material. In the rural area where I grew up, the county would dump large piles of gravel and other material beside the roads in certain areas to make it easy to do planned work. Thing is, as you drove past them, day by day, those piles started to get smaller even though no road work was being done. Some local farmers and ranchers were simply grabbing loads of it for personal use. Illegal and wrong? Yup. But it happened ALL the time.

      • Cypressclimber

        This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • Newp Ort

    They need feasibility studies. Then find a municipality willing to make a road out of it. Drive cars on it. See how well it works. Expand it to more roadways in different climes to verify different conditions, different grades, speeds, weights etc. Maybe it’s only workable on high-use low speed low weight urban areas in warmer weather.

    Not like we’re gonna just pave the whole country in one decision. And if it doesn’t work, you stop.

  • MitchellJ

    City of Sandpoint ID is giving them a try in some limited applications. So they are real, and will be in use soon.

  • Pete the Greek

    Seems like a pretty good idea!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K853GykeGH0

    I’m sure there are people out there who mysteriously and instinctively oppose this. But for the life of me I can’t understand why.

    • Elmwood

      great commercial! love the hot babes.

  • Cypressclimber

    There are a lot of questions to be answered (and at the site, they do have a lot of answers), but it sure is fascinating.

    But as my mother always said, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Dagnabbit_42

    No instinct in opposition, just the observation that the claims are vastly in excess of the reality.

    Solar panels that size, when turned via a tracking-system to face the sun exactly at all hours of the day, don’t produce enough electricity to simultaneously do all the things the inventors are claiming.

    If you had a solar panel at the equator on a cloudless day turning constantly to track the sun, and LEDs turning constantly to point at your eyes, you could probably light them up brightly enough for your eyes to see them just using the solar cells alone.

    But put that solar panel flat on the ground, and the shallow angle of the received sunlight reduces the electrical output by more than half.

    Cover that solar panel with thick knobby glass sufficient to support the weight of an 18-wheeler, and you’re going to reduce the electrical output by more than half, again.

    Then, fail to turn the LEDs to point at your eyes, but mount them in a fixed way pointing up, and they’ll be a lot dimmer ’cause you’re looking at them off-axis. You’re gonna need 3-4 times as many LEDs to produce the same visibility.

    Then, cover that with a layer of grime from the roadway, and suddenly the LEDs have to be even brighter to be visible through the grime, but the solar cells are taking in less sunlight because the grime is blocking it.

    And you’re telling me that there’ll be leftover electricity coming out
    of this system, sufficient to melt snow? And, that after that there’ll
    be even more leftover electricity sufficient to contribute to the grid? Not likely.

    That’s in full daylight. When it gets dark, the LEDs won’t need to be nearly so bright…but, then there won’t be any sunlight so I hope you had some batteries collecting excess output during the day!

    Except…oh, wait, that’s right, the day didn’t actually produce any excess output, once we accounted for the flat, unmoving position of the cells and the lights and the reduction in collected energy due to the thick glass and the grime.

    So you’re gonna need to run those lane markers off the grid all night. Whoops, looks like we’re not putting any power back into the grid; we’re taking it away. So much for putting the Arabs out of business.

    I think this whole idea is more likely to work if you DON’T have LEDs in them, and you instead create lane-markings in a more traditional way. You don’t get disco-rave roadways that way, but you have a chance of the road collecting more electricity than it uses.

    That’s my first concern.

    The second is: Waitasecond…we’re gonna have Atlanta or Boston or Miami (or wherever) drivers, driving their usual 80 mph, in a light drizzle, spotting red lights ahead and putting on the brakes…on a GLASS surface?

    Yes, I get that it’s textured, knobbly, thick glass. But still.

    In the video they had a tractor driving over it. Fine, but what about an 18-wheeler? Then I want to see a 747 landing on it. Then I want to see an Olympic weightlifter doing a deadlift drop his barbells on it. I want to see the Mythbusters do whatever they can think of, to it.

    Such demonstrations are not difficult to arrange. Why aren’t they on the video? Have they tried it already, with bad results?

    Best bet: Use this for sidewalks, tennis courts, and basketball courts for a decade or so. Then take what you learn from that.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I second most of your concerns. I wonder how much output these would have. In one month, the power plant my husband works at produces over 1,250,000 megawatt hours. It is one of the largest and cleanest in the country, and is a co-op. It powers parts of both the Eastern and Western Power Grids. It will take A LOT for other energy sources to replace it.

  • I looked into it when they were looking to raise $1m here:

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways

    I don’t think it’s going to work. It would be nice if it could. They’re doing an excellent job collecting money. They more than doubled their financial goal.

  • Elmwood

    there is no way in hell these things are durable enough to be driven on by cars, dump trucks, and semis, and deal with boulders and weather. they would cost way more than asphalt to repair.

    why not start with installing solar panels on our roofs for starters and cut federal fossil fuel subsidies.

  • It’s a neat idea but in reality, there are many issues we haven’t the technology & knowledge to address.

    “Solar panels under the road is a bad idea from the start. If they are
    under the roads, they are hard to maintain. They will have reduced
    light from parked cars etc. They are fragile. Not really congenial to
    the conditions you are likely to get on a road. In many ways building a
    shed over the road, or just having solar panels by the side of the road
    is a far better idea. However the power transport really isnt
    practical. One of the most efficient ways to transport electricity
    around is as high voltage AC. However to build those lines would
    probably double the cost of any construction. To bury the cables is
    even more expensive.”

    https://youtu.be/H901KdXgHs4

    • chezami

      Why no try it and see how it works?

      • The grant from the DOT was for initial testing. They may get more money (it will cost trillions) if they can show the technology is viable, works at least as well, if not better, than what we already use, and is cost effective. It’s not enough to have a great idea.

        I’ve written business proposals for people with great ideas. They insisted they were ready to seek investors even though they hadn’t sufficiently developed their ideas. They didn’t find funding. Crowdfunding appeals to individuals who often have little knowledge of science, poor research skills, and are willing to invest in what seems to be a great idea. It’s a way to circumvent seeking traditional investors. With an idea such as solar roadways, the amount raised through crowdfunding will only cover minimal R&D. If their R&D provides proof of viability, then they can hope to raise the capital they actually need to try it.

        At this point, the inventors must continue to R&D and testing. They aren’t ready to try their invention.

      • Philosophical Actuary

        Because one can analyze and project costs and benefits before investing in a particular course. One does not have to try a course merely because it has been proposed. It is reasonable to expect that it should be at least plausibly more beneficial than costly before wasting money on it.

  • Obpoet

    Upfront costs, driving on glass? A glass of trania, anyone?

  • Marthe Lépine

    It may be a very long time before something like this becomes suitable for a practical use, but in my opinion it is something that should be worked on, and maybe in a few generations it will become a fact. There is nothing wrong with applying our minds to difficult or even apparently impossible projects, but instead it is a way to think forward. Plus: I remember reading somewhere (unfortunately I cannot remember where just now) all the arguments brought forward against a then very new idea: the telephone! But it did succeed, even now to the point that it is becoming a problem itself in some cases…

    • Pete the Greek

      “all the arguments brought forward against a then very new idea: the telephone!”
      – Telephones were demonstrable in their use and private people began buying and using them. The man in this ad has not demonstrated anything except that he hired a graphics designer.

      Below I copied Mark’s text and applied it to a different item: a real estate investing course ad. Yes, it was a bit of snark on my part, but both items are actually VERY similar. Both the real estate ad and this ad for solar roadways contain a few fragments of truth and both have those fragments of truth buried in copious quantities of bu***hit. Neither man in ads directly LIES, but what they leave out borders on the dishonest, as others have pointed out.

      Both men, however, know how to craft some excellent marketing.

  • Becky

    Mark, I am wondering if there is enough clear reasoning here to help you understand why some people mysteriously and instinctively might oppose this. Or rather, as one person said, we don’t have enough information to oppose it, but enough to be very dubious.

  • falstaff77

    Dr Phil Mason, a chemist with notable publications in the literature, (online persona Thunderf00t), debunked Solar Roadways sometime ago. Even if the solar power aspects worked out, and they don’t, the advantages of asphalt as road surface per unit cost may be underestimated but are nonetheless unbeaten: hardness, toughness, durability, adhesiveness, strength, lasts for years and survives all weather. The success of millions of miles of asphalt roads over a century is not to be tossed away for someone’s clever glass patio.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzzz5DdzyWY

    • wineinthewater

      Asphalt is not the best argument here. Concrete roadways are actually superior to asphalt ones on a lifetime cost basis. The reason we use asphalt is that it is cheap up front and it shifts the lifecycle cost from materials to labor. So, with asphalt, politicians can use public funding to quickly and repeatedly create jobs in the local economy and make it look like they are effective leaders.

      • falstaff77

        Reinforced concrete can only beat asphalt for lifetime cost when the road load is high, I.e. trucks and high speed, high volume vehicle traffic. Add in frequent residential road costs of maintenance, installation for gas, water, sewer and asphalt is the clear winner for most secondary roads.

  • cmfe

    I’m more of a a Tesla fan myself, but if Edison had taken as a dim view as many writers here when he pursued a workable light bulb, we’d still be reading by candlelight.

    • Pete the Greek

      That’s an idiotic sentiment.

      Edison was, at the end of the day, a BUSINESSMAN. He had the ability, which is here decried, of doing cost/benefit analysis. He funded and produced what he could sell to the public, what the public wanted.

      Your problem is that you confuse people who do a little research, and bother looking at math with luddites.

      I’m guessing that you are one of those people who shelled out money for those ‘frictionless, free energy magnet engine’ plans they sell online too, right? I mean the claims they made were amazing… And only someone who has a dim view would not want it!

      • chezami

        Who has decried CBA here?

        • Pete the Greek

          That’s what’s implied when someone answers demonstrations that a proposed project is wasteful, unneeded, and deceitful in its ads with “we should keep doing it anyway!”

      • wineinthewater

        He was also an unrelenting thief. His genius was less his ability to invent ground-breaking technology and more to take ground-breaking technology and either perfect it or make it work in a way that was profitable and marketable.

        • Pete the Greek

          “His genius was less his ability to invent ground-breaking technology and more to take ground-breaking technology and either perfect it or make it work in a way that was profitable and marketable.”

          – Yup. I would add that he had the ability to make people think he was an inventive genius.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ1Mz7kGVf0

          • wineinthewater

            That’s awesome.