In the past month, my environmental class linked to this video and I’ve had multiple friends link to this video. In every case, the received response has been overwhelmingly positive.
However, we should be weary of letting the brilliant marketing sway our otherwise logical opinions. Taking a step back, is it really a logical idea? If you initially thought solar roadways were a good idea and perhaps you were even willing to support the campaign financially, consider the actual logic and science behind the project and decide whether the flashy marketing campaign blurred your vision.
Youtube user Thunderf00t, explains the problems with solar roadways in great detail. Some of these issues should have been obvious to the laymen, however, the well-marketed piece has continued to raise money for the project. The creators of this project are clearly intelligent people, but with obvious obstacles like the ones presented in this video, it begs the question of whether they actually believe what they are doing or if they are simply using the lie to deceive the people.
Here are some of my notes/highlights from this video for reference:
1) The main attribute that roads must absolutely have and cannot compromise is that they must durably provide traction for ALL vehicles in ALL environments. Due to this necessity, roads often need to be repaired. Cheap road repair is still extremely expensive, but replacing roads with high-tech glass bricks would require an unthinkable amount of money. The campaign claims that traction properties are ok, however there has been very limited testing on this property and I can imagine the difficulties that natural erosion and time would take on the high-tech glass. Glass is a relatively soft material, will it truly be reliable with years of usage in a range of environments?
2) Hexagonal tiles are a bad idea. Water will go through the cracks and natural erosional processes exist over time. Having hexagonal tiles will increase these negative properties and will thus need even more (costly) road repairs.
3) Environmentally conscious? Asphalt is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. Once again, the cost of recycling plants needed for this expensive high-tech glass would be astronomical.
4) COST. The solar roadways campaign has set up a part of their website to respond to the (seemingly) wide range of criticism it has received. In it, they state:
But right now, not even we have that information, so if you read an article where a journalist claims to have any data on costs, you can be assured that they have not done their homework and are quoting another unreliable source or they are making up numbers.
They offer no reasonable explanation to the criticisms other than “it has not been worked out yet.” This screams of a desperate dodge to the answer. What predictions on cost have been made? It would take nearly 20 trillion USD to acquire JUST the glass (this does not include any of the high-tech equipment or other materials). This is over 5x the U.S. federal budget in 2013.
5) Typical solar energy problems still exist. Solar power is only generated when there is sunlight. With the (insane) costs of the project, we will still only be generating energy when there is sunlight. It seems vastly inefficient to create roads built with solar panels in areas of low sun.
Power transportation is another glaring issue. The cost of infrastructure to transport the power would need to be taking in account. A power transportation system would have to be built along every road. The amount of material this would take would be ridiculous (metal, resources).
Burying power transmission lines cost about 10x more than hanging them above ground (which costs over $1 million/mile). Another outrageous claim made by the initial marketing video. If this power cannot be transported reasonably, then why generate it in the first place?
Another statement: Will road engineers now need to become electricians?
6) Lighting up roads to create signals and other designs is inefficent. Putting lights in all the roads would be a waste of energy and another insane cost. It is simply inefficient and completely not required for safe and happy roadways. Seeing these LEDs under bright sunlight would be a struggle.
What will be the visibility of these lights? Who cares if we can change the patterns of the roads? Exactly how many roads need to change design on any sort of regular basis?
Another statement: In many of the artistic pictures for solar roadways, the roadways are presented with a dark-green color, however, solar panels are black.
7) The claim that the panels will heat up to eliminate snow is absolutely outrageous. In the northern winters during blizzards when there is extremely little snow, they will use the energy to melt the snow. It requires a very large amount of energy to turn snow into water. This is completely unfathomable to consider. Once again, this process is not needed compared to how we run things today.
8) Will a solar power covered in dirt/oil actually generate enough energy? Roads are extremely dirty and when these panels are covered with dirt, it will generate little energy compared to maximum output.
9) There exists an abundance of better ways to invest in renewable resources and tackle the future energy problems. To consider all the money and resources necessary for this project and utilizing them towards efficient projects would be the best route of action.
To sum up some of the thoughts:
1) The cost is ridiculously high. No, not just high, it is unthinkable.
2) There exists a ton of mechanical problems with the entire project.
3) There are better projects and ideas that will be much more efficient than solar freakin’ roadways.
Essentially, some dude and his wife raised over $2 million using Powerpoint to shovel bunk science to a large amount of people.