Could Solar Roadways Lead Us Into a Greener Future?

By | 16:09 1 comment

The media delights in telling us that, environmentally, we're pretty much screwed. 

Certainly there is very little sustainability in the way we power our world and support our populations at the present. While fossil fuels have been an excellent way of gaining the energy we need to live, it can't be here forever. While it may last for a long time yet, very few people would argue that it would be better for us to remain tied to a dwindling resource and for us to be subject to the people who control that resource. Future planning and vast investment naturally needs to happen early and pro-actively in order to allow us to bild a foundation for a more sustainable future source of energy.

For many people, nuclear energy is the answer. While this is a resource with huge potential, it has suffered from the sheer expense, concerns about the longevity and dangers of its pollutant waste and, of course, the fears of the deadly consequences of any nuclear disasters. While these risks may be small they weigh heavily on the public mindset. As I learned in my article on the current state of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, mistakes in how nuclear power is handled can have effects that last for decades and longer, even if -in Chernobyl's case- there is hope of eventual recovery.

If nuclear power is one prong of a more sustainable future, it is necessary that it is supported by another 'greener' energy. At the current state, solar and wind energy are notoriously weak due to issues with inconsistency (it can't be windy or sunny all the time everywhere) and limitations in the ability to store this natural energy without using a vast array of very un-clean batteries.
But despite the frustrations about solar energy, there is a new innovation that is taking the internet by storm that may solve our energy problems in the future:

Solar ('Freakin') Roadways.

Really, after that video, I wouldn't blame anyone for wanting to fling money at the project. 
While the project proposes a massive change to the fundamental infrastructure of America, such huge projects have been developed before. Look at the Victorians and their railways, or the move to indoor plumbing and electricity. In my own English city, we have a tram network which interacts with the already established roads to provide more easily accessible and punctual public transport. When the product is valuable enough, it is possible to put projects like these into effect. If the roads can be converted to provide constant solar energy, can be programmed into greater usability an durability, can provide more attuned safety, can power cars and can heat the roads to prevent disruptions during snow...well, these are and exciting leaps into a sustainable future that we can almost touch.

That said, of course there are problems that need to be faced first.

The investment is, at the end of the day, vast. Is now the right time for this technology? Can it deliver what it promises?

Joel Anderson of, for example,  expressed some of his doubts on the viability of the project. Why install this massive change in infrastructure by installing solar power on the road systems when, all around us, there are large quantities of unused surfaces that have not benefitted from Solar power? For example, there are thousands of roof systems in personal homes as well as office and warehouse space for businesses such as Wall*Mart. 'The price-point is rapidly approaching the area where it makes financial sense', he insisted, so why not make use of all these miles of unoptimized space? It isn't that novel an idea.

Personally, I think that Anderson makes a good point on this front, though the significant difference is that, we might suppose, if we were to turn the road-sysems into solar roadways, there would be much more unification. A single decision would be made and green energy would be pushed forwards all at once. Instead of the microcosmic use of solar energy by individual businesses who face issues with storing the energy in any useful fashion, instead the technology would be pushed into the macrocosm and taken seriously enough to force these problems to be addressed as a nation. It would be easier for a large system to make use of redirected and stored energy as part of a vast multi-use network, rather than a scattering of individual solar panels having to operate individually for one-use purposes.

Perhaps for me, the greatest potential that the solar roadways proposal has is that ability to provide clean constant power to electric vehicles. 

As I understand it, 100% electric vehicles have been hobbled by the fact that they take so long to charge up, that they can only travel limited distances before they require this 8-hour charge, and that the accessibility to charge-points is limited. Solar Roadways aim to fix all of these problems, as they explain on their website:

"You say that these roads will charge electric vehicles and will "pave the way" for EVs to be a viable option. But how much more electricity would we consume if every vehicle being driven in the US were an EV? And would the solar roadway grid be able to keep up with that much demand?

Good question. Energy demand will definitely increase as more people convert to EVs.
It will take time for every road to be converted and for every internal combustion engine to be replaced by an EV. Our technologies will grow together and two things will happen:

1) EVs will become more efficient, so they'll require less energy than they do today. Being capable of being charged by the road means that they won't need large batteries, which will lighten their load and require less power to go the same distance.

2) Solar Roadways will become more efficient at harvesting energy. Solar cell efficiencies over 18-percent are common and cheap now. We will use whatever is commonly available for our Solar Road Panels. As solar cell efficiencies rise, our panels will produce even more energy than they used to at lower solar cell efficiencies. If at any time, the threshold of energy used surpasses that of energy produced by Solar Roadways, then we'll also be supplemented by wind and hydro and whatever other renewable energy has hit the market. It shouldn't be a problem."

If this potential is realised, and solar roadways become a way that we can power electric cars in an efficient and usable manner, then surely this is the most exciting development of all.
Of course the Orwellian sceptic in us might fear the idea of this pushing the control of energy prices and delivery to the government entirely, how this this much of a difference in change when they are so closley ties up with petrol, oil and our power? This would hardly be 'free' power in the end, as I expect that taxes would sky-rocket to cover this service, but overall it is likely that a more stable economy would be created.

Solar Roadways are, in the end, a huge change, and one that inspires a lot of questions.

But at the end of the day, whether people are funding the 'viable future' or simply the 'hobby' of a couple of eccentrics, this blue sky thinking has excited a lot of people about the potential to harness our world in a thoroughly modern, sustainable manner. Whatever mistakes or gains that are made during the research and development of this grass-roots project is set to teach us some very important lessons, whatever happens.

- Solar Freakin' Roadways
- - Why the project may be 'silly'
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1 comment:

  1.  I want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. 
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