Solar Roadways

A Reality Check on Solar Roadways

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Solar Roadways is an Idaho-based ambitious small startup aimed at solving the biggest crisis facing Americans; climate change. It hopes to impede climate change by transforming the previously laid road network into advanced solar roadways.

This company is hopeful for the future, which is why it has made brand new solar road panels. Creating a normal road generates a lot of greenhouse gasses, which is not sustainable in the long run, but these solar road panels allow travel and energy generation. If even some areas of the road were converted to solar roadways, the streets would be cleaner and better.

These solar roadways work by building road panels into highways to generate solar power. This power can be utilized for heating, lighting, and many other uses. However, what is troubling is that this company has to install and test the efficacy of its application, as previous initiatives have met with failure.

The Empty Promise

Since its inception, the startup Solar Roadways promises:

Extreme usability everywhere

The name might be misleading as many people would associate solar roadways with only roads, but that is far from the truth. Any ground-level surface is eligible for these panels, whether bike paths, parking lots, playgrounds, or residential driveways. The choices are limitless.

Long lifespan and durability

Asphalt roads typically need repairs after ten years. Solar Roadways promises a twenty-year lifespan and waterproof road panels, which is remarkable.

Large capacity for energy

The company promises to generate three times the annual energy consumption of a typical household if the existing roads are converted into solar roadways.

No snow pileup

As the solar panels generate energy, they can heat up and melt any snow that falls on them. There would be no snow-blocked roads or driveways if these solar panels were everywhere. Also, no shoveling will be needed.

Safer roads with charging

These panels can work as a warning light, lighting up dark places and warning about accidents or obstacles ahead. They will also be able to charge electric vehicles as they pass over the road (inductive charging).

With this attractive pitch, anyone would want to invest in the project, and Solar Roadways has collected a large sum of money from crowdfunding, brand endorsements, government grants, and donors. However, the concept is far from reality, and the truth is quite grim.

Solar Roadways
IMAGE COURTESY OF DESIGNBOOM.COM

The Sad Reality of Solar Roadways

The hype was real, and the movement had traction, but how far have Solar Roadways reached its goals?

Condition of Solar Roadways in the US

The company planned to make a solar roadway during 2016-2017 on the Route 66 located in Missouri, but the contract was called off for unspecified reasons before the project even began. 

You can find their pilot project on a small 150-square-foot walkway in Sandpoint, Idaho. It was installed in 2016, after which it caught on fire due to its fried electrical system. It also could not melt the snow that fell on it.

An operational solar roadway is present in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. This was installed in 2020 and has WattWay road panels. It takes up a tiny space and is limited in scope. No data is shared about its performance, making it hard to gauge its efficiency.

Other projects

Other countries have also tried the technologies of solar pavements, solar bike paths, and solar roadways. Trials have been conducted multiple times. However, the projects were small-scale.

The Obstacles In The Way

Even though it has not been experimented with much, the trials concerning solar roadways have proved to be riddled with many problems which are challenging to overcome.

Inadequate Solar Power

Experts have calculated that solar roadways generate one-third fraction of the power that solar panels produce with the same capacity in a solar power plant. This happens due to the following reasons:

  • Shading from buildings and vegetation in the vicinity, passing automobiles, and leaves or dust can lower the efficiency of the solar roadway to produce solar energy. Even a tiny amount of shade can lead to significantly reduced power generation.
  • Rooftop solar panels have the advantage of tilting to maximize solar power, but solar roadways do not have this accessibility, decreasing energy generation by twenty percent or more.
  • Building solar panels into the road leaves no room for ventilation or cooling, which heats them, thereby reducing circulation, and solar power generation is reduced as temperatures are high.

Expensive

Installation of these solar roads is costly. One estimate quotes the cost of these panels as being three to four times more than that of an asphalt road, and this is before adding the cost of the other materials of a road panel.

Security concerns

The outer glass surface of these solar road panels raises concerns about the degree of traction it can provide for fast-moving vehicles.

Inability to handle high traffic

Engineers cannot make solar panels that are strong enough to withstand the large mass of vehicles. They also cannot make them transparent enough so that the boards can properly utilize sunlight.

Is There Any Alternative?

A good and cheap way to produce solar power is through standard photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. You might know them as solar panels. Nothing beats their energy output on custom ground mounts or rooftops. They are known for their cheap upfront costs, lifespan, and efficiency.

Compared to the one solar roadway built in the US, there are over three million plus solar panels all over the country. With the high supply, these panels are cheap. With solar energy plants being built now, solar panels are the cheapest source of energy producers.

Solar panels are highly compatible with homes. They can be set up on the roof and take care of all the energy needs of a day. Homeowners can save about $50,000 or more after installation.

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