SOLAR. FREAKING. ROADWAYS.
Yes, you read it right. SOLAR. FREAKING. ROADWAYS.
If you don’t get where I’m going with this, click here to watch a short explicatory video. If you don’t have approximately 419 seconds to spare, though, my explanation will do the trick.
With their first prototype launched in 2010 and three modified versions hitting the market since, Solar Roadways markets a “modular system of specially engineered solar panels.” From roadways to sidewalks to playgrounds, all can be replaced with these panels made of formulated tempered glass. The panels also feature heating elements to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice, have LED features to display any pattern from lane marks to the lines of a sport-field, and most importantly, generate solar energy. This renewable source of power is sent to nearby homes and businesses as an alternative to fossil fuels. Economically speaking, these utopian roads also pay for themselves with the electricity they generate.
Talk about killing a lot of birds with one stone, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in the movie TRON and light-up roads are not quite in our reach…yet. While they seem a phenomenal innovation, some real-life results prove less promising.
To state the basics, solar panels lying on a road are much less efficient than classical models. Without the correct tilt-angle and being prone to shade, the effectiveness of the panels could be reduced by up to 50%. Moreover, their heat-retention causes reduced energy efficiency. In practice, the roads are also performing more poorly than expected: an early solar road installed in France highlighted this, yielding only 409 kWh/day. Estimates were nearly double that.
A real dampener on this innovation, however, is their cost-ineffectiveness. While a shift towards solar energy as-is can wane to the expensive side (when compared to more conventional sources such as fossil fuels), a shift to inefficient solar energy, as would be produced by solar roadways, just doesn’t seem a logical choice. A big question is raised – are Solar Roadways worth the money?
With all this in mind, it seems that only time will reveal the value of Solar Roadways. Perhaps technology will improve to increase the efficiency of roadways’ solar panels, which would solve the prominent issues regarding efficiency and cost-effectiveness. For the meantime, though, we can all be sure of one thing: Solar Roadways are in the making.
And that’s pretty freaking bright.
1) New Energy Center, Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2008.12.026
2) “Inhabitat’s Week in Green: Solar roadways, and more!” AOL Inc. Jul 03 2016.ProQuest. 26 Apr. 2019
Photo by Solar Roadways®