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Author Topic: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you  (Read 638 times)

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Offline HadesTopic starter

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Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« on: June 25, 2014, 10:11:12 AM »
A couple in Idaho, Scott and Julie Brusaw, started a company called Solar Roadways with the intent being to replace the pavement in cities with solar panels strong enough to handle the pressure of being driven on as a means of providing a cleaner, more productive power infrastructure.  They took their idea to a crowd-sourcing site since investors were hard to find beyond an initial award from the federal government to create a prototype.   The results were within two months time, the couple managed to raise $2.2 million from across the world and from every state.

I think this is a fantastic idea.  It not only addresses the issue of global warming and energy production, but also will provide a much-needed boost to the infrastructure of this country that is in such a dismal condition.  So hopefully what started out in a single city in Idaho now will become a nationwide effect in short order.

Offline Eri Oni

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2014, 01:16:32 AM »
It's an odd idea, I would have never thought of it that's for sure. But that's because I've always thought Solar Cells to be to fragile for things like that. However, it is a great idea. I hope it works out!

Offline Rogue

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2014, 12:12:07 AM »
The conspiracy theorist in me is concerned about gas companies and electric companies. In addition how would one go about setting up a competitor once electric companies go out of business? Because there are anti monopoly laws and the likes.... Or would this be a government run thing?

Offline Oniya

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #3 on: June 27, 2014, 12:59:12 AM »
You'd still need electrical companies to maintain the wiring etc.  The difference is simply in the source of the energy (solar vs. fossil fuels or water turbines)

Offline TaintedAndDelish

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2014, 03:30:08 AM »

I really like the idea.

In the US at least, we a ridiculous amount of highway space that could be utilized.

Offline ThePrince

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2014, 11:02:55 AM »
The conspiracy theorist in me is concerned about gas companies and electric companies. In addition how would one go about setting up a competitor once electric companies go out of business? Because there are anti monopoly laws and the likes.... Or would this be a government run thing?

The bigger issue is the unknown cost for installing and maintenance of these panels. We don't yet know how well these panels are going to hold up under normal road conditions. There is also the question of humidity which effects solar panel performance that are low to the ground.

This idea seems cool and I'd like to see how it works but honestly it's cheaper and easier to install solar panels on houses than redo our entire road infrastructure.

Has for who would run this, because it's built into our roads it would probably become a local government utility as they are the ones who are in charge of maintaining public roads.

Offline Rogue

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2014, 11:48:11 AM »
The bigger issue is the unknown cost for installing and maintenance of these panels. We don't yet know how well these panels are going to hold up under normal road conditions. There is also the question of humidity which effects solar panel performance that are low to the ground.

This idea seems cool and I'd like to see how it works but honestly it's cheaper and easier to install solar panels on houses than redo our entire road infrastructure.

Has for who would run this, because it's built into our roads it would probably become a local government utility as they are the ones who are in charge of maintaining public roads.

Actually, maintenance would be easy and they've tested them a lot under extreme conditions.

I'm just going to plop this vid here for explanations regarding road conditions, since it's the more fun version of the one that the couple put out.



I'm personally slightly more concerned about tornadoes and earthquakes that hit these things. But normal road conditions and even hurricanes and severe storms shouldn't be too much of a problem (assuming that the run off system/keep water out of electrical parts system described in the video works properly).

You see it might be "Cheaper" but there are other benefits to having solar roadways so I'm going to politely disagree that it's safer than having them on the roof (where hurricanes and gods know what else will get to them). I'd rather have these on my sidewalk.

You'd still need electrical companies to maintain the wiring etc.  The difference is simply in the source of the energy (solar vs. fossil fuels or water turbines)

See... I think that there would be lower maintenance so I'm not sure? Also, it'd be easier to hijack your house onto the system.

In addition, I just really don't want electric companies to have control over this because they'll charge out the ass for something that should be $30 dollars per family for keeping things staffed. Maybe. I pay less than that for my gas or water bill.

Also Gas companies won't like this because Electric cars will become more viable.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #7 on: June 27, 2014, 12:07:17 PM »
See... I think that there would be lower maintenance so I'm not sure? Also, it'd be easier to hijack your house onto the system.

In addition, I just really don't want electric companies to have control over this because they'll charge out the ass for something that should be $30 dollars per family for keeping things staffed. Maybe. I pay less than that for my gas or water bill.

Also Gas companies won't like this because Electric cars will become more viable.

Lower maintenance would be a reason for lower prices - and if there are still genuinely competing utility companies, then the one that can offer consumers the lowest price stands to corner a larger percentage of the market.

You're probably right about the gas companies, though.

Offline Rogue

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #8 on: June 27, 2014, 12:12:40 PM »
Lower maintenance would be a reason for lower prices - and if there are still genuinely competing utility companies, then the one that can offer consumers the lowest price stands to corner a larger percentage of the market.

You're probably right about the gas companies, though.

Unfortunately (at least in my limited experiences) Electric companies tend to have control over areas. You can't really choose which one you're going with because they already own the power lines in that area type thing.

However, my experiences are limited to apartments and Florida in particular so I'm pretty sure I could be wrong.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #9 on: June 27, 2014, 12:16:37 PM »
That's actually changing.  Here in PA, you're allowed to choose your supplier - it all still uses the same infrastructure, but you get more control of your price per Kwh.

Offline Rogue

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #10 on: June 27, 2014, 12:23:18 PM »
That's pretty cool! I wonder how long it would take for that to make it's way to Florida. *chuckles*

Oh: Something I thought about regarding installation of these roads and how it would affect traffic that I just thought of!

I am on the interstate like ever few months at least. I hit I-75 and I-10 regularly on my way from where I'm living and where my parents are (as well as occasionally I-95). There is always some construction going on with paving and updating the roads! Wouldn't it be faster with these panels? Also, would it affect traffic all that much if there's already infrastructure updating going on at various points on the highways?

Offline Wheeler97

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2014, 02:07:59 PM »
There is a lot of skepticism coming out, and I might add that it is rightly so.

I understand the idea, and I was initially taken by it as well. I didn't donate to the fundraiser, however.

There are many glaring issues that I think they have, and they shrug off the criticism without really addressing the concerns. I've watched all the videos, and several from their critics. I don't think this entrepreneurial husband-wife team really have the expertise to pull this off yet.

They claim all this benefit and don't suggest even a rough cost per panel. They claim they haven't done those calculations yet and can't know until they're ready for mass production. Umm.... That's a big risk to throw more than $2 million at, and no business investor would believe that. If they wanted to know, they can do the math. They should do the math. Some critics have suggested possible costs of a couple hundred dollars PER panel. (EDIT: This is for smaller ones. Their blog posts claim that if they could achieve a $10,000 cost for a 12 foot by 12 foot panel, they would be doing well.)

For the heck of it, let's do a little guess-work math. I can count 18 rows of panels on their website that shows a small stretch of their "roadway" near a barn. Earch row is 5.5 panels, so there are 99 panels. Let's say that these miraculously only cost $100.00 each, an absurdly low estimate. That's almost $10,000, for a few hundred square feet, approximately. Asphalt pavement costs no more than a couple dollars per square foot.

Here are a few of my critical questions that I feel I haven't seen an acceptable answer to.

1. How do they plan to provide enough power in winter to melt snow from well below freezing when the panels will be covered with snow and thus NOT generating any power? I think their imaginations ran wild with that "feature." It takes a lot of energy to melt snow, and the little defrost strip from a car does not provide enough heat.

2. How is glass going to hold up, in the long-term, to maintain the amount of traction that they claim these panels have? If snow builds up, what is the risk that snow plows are going to chip away all the tempered surface of these panels? His blog shows a nice grid that says "Look, Glass is harder than asphalt!" Glass may be "harder" than asphalt on the Mohs scale that classifies minerals. However, the Solar Roadways team neglects the fact that glass is far more brittle and less elastic than asphalt. The elasticity of asphalt is what makes it such an ideal surface for roadways, as it can move with the ground beneath it.

3. Have they ever seen LEDs during the daytime? They claim, "Hey we'll use the high-powered ones like in new traffic lights!" Uh... Their problem is that traffic lights are hanging and are covered to provide shade over the light. Without that shading, traffic lights would be much harder to see further away. Their panels have lights aiming UP, not even toward the drivers on the road. What's more... you can't shade the whole dang highway system or the panels won't generate solar power.

4. How do these panels adjust for the decrease of energy production if partially shaded? If one portion of a solar panel is shaded, the whole panel suffers. If cars are constantly driving over these, or parked for long periods of time, what is the continued benefit? They claim to have "microinverters" that keep other panels around a shaded one from losing efficiency, but that still ignores the fact that cars sitting on your solar panel is drastically reducing its power-generating surface area.

I have a real problem with people that immediately counter criticism by claiming their critics are using false science and misleading information. This guy is the one that doesn't answer his questions straight...

I am a HUGE proponent of solar power and other alternative energy sources. However, I am not so sure that making our roadways into solar panels is going to be as effective as this entrepreneur claims.

India is going to start covering their canal systems with solar panels. THAT is a smart idea. It provides a lot of surface area and also shades the canals to reduce water loss from evaporation.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 02:14:39 PM by Wheeler97 »

Offline Rogue

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Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2014, 02:52:56 PM »
1. How do they plan to provide enough power in winter to melt snow from well below freezing when the panels will be covered with snow and thus NOT generating any power? I think their imaginations ran wild with that "feature." It takes a lot of energy to melt snow, and the little defrost strip from a car does not provide enough heat.

4. How do these panels adjust for the decrease of energy production if partially shaded? If one portion of a solar panel is shaded, the whole panel suffers. If cars are constantly driving over these, or parked for long periods of time, what is the continued benefit? They claim to have "microinverters" that keep other panels around a shaded one from losing efficiency, but that still ignores the fact that cars sitting on your solar panel is drastically reducing its power-generating surface area.

I'm going to go with the ones that I know the answers to. :) Or at least the theoretical answers to, starting with your last question.

Hypothetically, if the entirety of the roadways are covered in these things like desired (which does mean we're not going to get the immediate affects we want unless they start in Arizona or New Mexico for instance), the power flowing through these things would more than make up for the shaded portions. Especially as they plan to utilize sidewalks as well, which typically don't get the same shaded affect. The amount of roadway that isn't frequently utilized in the US that could be used for this purpose is vast. Roads that used to be popular but are no longer utilized because of interstates for instance would generate a lot of energy. The issue would be getting the energy to other parts of the country that needs it.

As for the snow issue, hypothetically the panel would be keeping itself at above zero degrees Celsius. This would cost a lot of energy yes, but this falls back on the previous answer. However, I'm hoping that as they're in Idaho, that they'd have tested this before making claims that they could in fact do this. If not, I suspect they will test it in the upcoming winter as they already have the panels installed around their house. Now, if there is never any snow on the panels, then there's no snow covered panels not gathering sunlight.

I share your concerns with the earth moving and the glass not being able to handle it. This is a project that requires multiple years of study to make sure it functions properly before it can hit the roadways successfully. It may require even more funding. However, if the end result is what I hope it is, it will be worth it in the long run.

We spend 10-15 billion dollars a year on electricity. Throwing two million at this project in hope that it works is a very small amount in comparison. Especially as most people only spent 10-300 dollars on the project, the higher amounts with little gifts being given to those donating.

I spend more than $10 on things I don't need a month. I'm sure I could live without that $10 dollars in hope that this works properly.

((I do like the India bit though. Maybe throw some info up for it?))

Offline Ebb

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #13 on: June 27, 2014, 04:01:04 PM »
There's always something to be said for aiming high. If we don't set lofty goals then we'll never reach the limits of what's possible.

That having been said, everything I've read about this particular effort makes me think that they're sort of aiming to jump a couple of levels on the technology tree without spending time on the intermediate steps. It seems to me that there are some less lofty goals that are by definition more easily achievable and could still be very useful. I'm a big fan of solar energy, and coming up with a cheap mass-producible modular solar energy panel would be a great thing, and a big step forward from the state of the art. Throwing extra requirements on it, like being able to drive a semi truck over it for years and years, just seems a little nutty to me.

If you had cheap interconnecting solar panels that you could lay down mechanically, but they weren't load bearing and they didn't have LED display capabilities, for instance, then you could use them to:
- Cover rooftops on every big-box store
- Lay out a path between the rails of thousands of miles of railway
- Do the same thing on above-ground light rail systems in cities, helping to power the trains
- Just build huge solar farms over reclaimed landfills, or roofed-over water treatment plants, or canals (as in the Indian example), or carport overhangs on parking lots, or... Basically any patch of anything that's exposed to the sky during the day and is near enough to the power grid to dump the electricity in.

Now maybe the idea here is to postulate a really science-fictiony idea in the hopes that you capture peoples' imaginations, jumpstart the development and then end up with something not quite so gee-whiz but still useful. If so, kudos on them. But that's not what I'm seeing in the literature from these guys or in a lot of the discussion. (Not necessarily talking about the discussion here, more on other forums.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_Solar_Power_Project  <-- This is the Indian project mentioned.
http://us.sunpower.com/commercial/products-services/solar-parking/  <-- Here's a company that makes solar panel covered canopies for use in parking lots


But on the other hand, I've spent $10 on lottery tickets before, and that was even less likely to pay off.



Offline Qt

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2014, 06:22:21 PM »
It looks like a good idea on first look, but the more you dig deeper then more you'd realize it's effective a scam. Sure 2 million isn't a lot compared to billions, but 2 millions being flushed away, being stolen. That's not good.

The video below should give a fairly good explanation on how from an energy generation point of view, it's just not going to work. And it's not exactly things that are going to work with tinkering either.




Here are a few of my critical questions that I feel I haven't seen an acceptable answer to.

1. How do they plan to provide enough power in winter to melt snow from well below freezing when the panels will be covered with snow and thus NOT generating any power? I think their imaginations ran wild with that "feature." It takes a lot of energy to melt snow, and the little defrost strip from a car does not provide enough heat.

2. How is glass going to hold up, in the long-term, to maintain the amount of traction that they claim these panels have? If snow builds up, what is the risk that snow plows are going to chip away all the tempered surface of these panels? His blog shows a nice grid that says "Look, Glass is harder than asphalt!" Glass may be "harder" than asphalt on the Mohs scale that classifies minerals. However, the Solar Roadways team neglects the fact that glass is far more brittle and less elastic than asphalt. The elasticity of asphalt is what makes it such an ideal surface for roadways, as it can move with the ground beneath it.

3. Have they ever seen LEDs during the daytime? They claim, "Hey we'll use the high-powered ones like in new traffic lights!" Uh... Their problem is that traffic lights are hanging and are covered to provide shade over the light. Without that shading, traffic lights would be much harder to see further away. Their panels have lights aiming UP, not even toward the drivers on the road. What's more... you can't shade the whole dang highway system or the panels won't generate solar power.

4. How do these panels adjust for the decrease of energy production if partially shaded? If one portion of a solar panel is shaded, the whole panel suffers. If cars are constantly driving over these, or parked for long periods of time, what is the continued benefit? They claim to have "microinverters" that keep other panels around a shaded one from losing efficiency, but that still ignores the fact that cars sitting on your solar panel is drastically reducing its power-generating surface area.

1, It's not going to melt snow, there's just so many issues here, first how it's going to be generating energy when the sun is blocked out, when it's covered in snow. The other issues is, even if you ignore it, it wouldn't be able to generate enough energy to actually melt snow. It takes a lot of energy to turn 0 degree ice into 0 degree water.

2, This I believe is the fundemental issue. Glass is just not a good material for roads, not to mention that glass has to be kept in a condition where it doesn't become opaque and lower the power generation due to blocking out the light. This is a problem that'll never be solved, unless they simply not use glass.

3, Yeah, you can't see the LEDs in daylight, simple as that. Even if they used the high powered ones, it'll be competing with the sunlight, ie, it'll need to be brighter than the sunlight to be seen, otherwise it'll just be washed out. Not to mention the angle you're viewing the LED as you drive on the road. Yeah you can see in the night time, but that's when it'll be demanding power since there'll be no sunlight.

4, This is another big issue. The way that the solar panels are on the ground, unable to actual adjust the angles at which it faces the sun. The fact that there are cars going over it, and the road will accumulate dirt, really just cut down on the energy generation. Installing these in parking spaces is just a joke, since the main purpose of those is to have car parked, ie blocking out the solar panel.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #15 on: June 28, 2014, 12:01:32 PM »
Youtuber Thunderf00t has a pretty good series of videos explaining why it's actually an awful idea. I see some of the points mentioned in the previous points are the same ones he mentioned, so I won't go into details - look the videos up if you need convincing!

I think the overall problem is that it's simply too complicated, too fancy. Just put solar panels by the roads, or over the roads, or over parking spaces, or on buildings, or anywhere where they're not going to be shaded for extended periods, have to deal with constant wear and tear, and are easier to access for maintenance purposes. But, of course, then it's no longer a fancy innovation. It's something that's already being done in many places.

Basically, they've tried to create an interesting innovation by adding a lot of cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary features.

We're going to need a lot of innovation - social and technological - to deal with the planet's mounting environmental and climate problems. But this, I would go so far as to argue, actually damages those efforts. Because this, a completely unviable option, gets all the attention. I could be wrong on this, and it could get people to care more and pay more attention. Or it could make them cynical, and wary of other, more grounded innovations.

Offline AffablyEvil

Re: Solar Powered Roads - Coming to an Idaho near you
« Reply #16 on: July 05, 2014, 06:33:46 PM »
Youtuber Thunderf00t has a pretty good series of videos explaining why it's actually an awful idea. I see some of the points mentioned in the previous points are the same ones he mentioned, so I won't go into details - look the videos up if you need convincing!

The referenced video: