Monday, June 2, 2014

Solar Roadways...

Like so many people I have observed in recent weeks messages in my Facebook feed about solar roadways.  I cannot say that I am an expert in them, but I think they might actually be usable.  But lets look at them, the pros and cons as I understand them, then, you research them, make up your own mind about how well they will work.  Do not take my word for it, I am a layman, just some idiot with a college education that is severely lacking in engineering.  Okay, you got me, i studied zero engineering.  On s side note, I am dealing with some serious eye strain, and the internet provider should be around shortly to see why I am having so many connectivity issues. 

As I was saying a few weeks back I started seeing posts about the couple above, who state that they have the answer to one of our more pressing matters, climate change.  The answer, solar roadways.  On the surface that sounds completely plausible, something that can completely change the way our country and the world views energy, and the environment.  Now the people I have observed that are behind this project make some valid points.  First being the project should pay for itself in time.  All good projects eventually do pay for themselves.  In theory, and theory is drastically different from practice, these roads could lead to a virtually inexhaustible form of energy which can be used to supply everyone in this country relatively cheap.  

That would be a huge plus.  Look at people who have solar panels on their homes, they certainly do save money over time.  But the creators of this solar roadway also point out that it could save money during the winter months, as they would not need to be cleared as often, the snow and ice melting off the roadway could then be stored as grey water (alright thats a plus), and above ground phone, cable and internet lines could be placed opposite the gray water giving better access and more protection to them.  Hey, to me that sounds like a great idea.  We can also remove some of these road signs because of inserted LEDs placed directly into the roadway, and unless there is a massive issue, they should still work in the event of a massive outage.  But something else, it can be programed to warn us of obstructions ahead (IE: "Hey idiot, slow down, deer in the road").

Alright my first concern, wearing of the road, and textured glass roadways.  Glass and tires do not always mix, and well, I would be concerned about how well these roads will hold up.  Well, if they hold up as well as the current roads, that wouldn't be all that bad.  Ideally they would hold up better.  Yeah, I am tired of playing dodge, weave and brake for the massive craters in the roads around here.  While sitting at a stop light the other day, I swear I saw the Loch Ness Monster pop its head out of one large enough to swallow a Prius.  Speaking of which, textured or not, how well can we control our current and future vehicles on said roadway.  I know they say that the sample roadway has passed the torture tests, and that it provides adequate traction for today's vehicles, but it is something I have a concern about.  Sure, it might be an unwarranted concern, but until I have been on the road in most conditions I will face, I would be tentative about it.  I guess it would be like the first time a skater hits the ice for the year.  They might be able to go full speed, but they are just as likely to take their time.  I would be one who would take his time.

I have heard some very positive things about these solar roadways, enough so that I would set my worries aside and start testing them (driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, etc).  Its not as ambitious as many of my peers are, I like to start small, so I can test things out, see what improvements can be made, see what problems larger groups would need to be leery of.  But this ties into a recent complaint I have heard about the solar roads we might be driving on in the years to come.  Many vehicles tend to drop oils and fluids on the road, sometimes you get on the gas or brake a bit harder than intended (or some people purposely do burnouts), which leaves faint trains of rubber.  Now, I would assume that because the surface of the roadway is glass this won't be much of an issue, it should (with enough rain) wash off (vehicle fluids not so much).  But that would lead to problems with gray water, it would be contaminated with chemicals, which would require new treatment facilities to ensure that the water is safe for human or animal use.  That was actually fairly easy to figure out, regular maintenance would have to include using said contaminated gray water to clean the roads.

But if that was the only problem, that is minor.  Last week, I started seeing the first opposing views of this solar roadway, and some of the issues brought forth, I am concerned about (how well it holds up, traction, and some other issues), and others just leave me scratching my head, because I am not an engineer.  One such problem is that the roads are fixed, they cannot move with the sun maximizing their ability to collect solar energy.  Now, I am no expert in the field of solar power.  Actually, I think I am mostly stupid about it, but when those panels are attached to a home, they are in a fixed position.  Now, another things I am confused about is this.  I remember seeing solar panels in my early teens, 92-93, surely solar powered technology has advanced in the last two decades.  Actually I am pretty sure it has.  That house I saw with solar panels back in the day required the entire roof to be covered, now its not nearly as bad.  But here is the thing, all the millions of miles of roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, I would assume that the fixed nature of the roadways would be a moot point.  For me its like being concerned about the Grand Canyon flooding because the Colorado River is backed up.  Maybe that is a faulty comparison but think about it.  At some point you have so many roads collecting energy, that their fixed nature would be negated. 

A big question is who is going to pay for this.  Yeah, it would be the government, then again, they already pay for roads.  It would be harder on states, but the boon to the economy from people installing these roads (remember I am all for massive infrastructure projects), and cheaper electricity would mean more people spending, that leads to a bigger economy.  But also remember I would want to start small. 

Ultimately, I am for the attempt.  If we do nothing we will loose.  If we try and fail, while we will loose, we will have something to work with.  It might not be the greatest plan for the largest threat to the world currently (second is poverty), but poverty won't matter if the environment is destroyed and nobody can live.  It took over one hundred years to get here, and if the reports I have read are correct, we need to take drastic steps to lessen the coming fallout, since we cannot prevent it.  We drug our feet for too long denying, and hiding our heads in the sand, and our choices are dwindling.  We are now left with the extreme choices of sitting idea and consigning future generations to death, or taking drastic actions that will offend many.  We do not need to wait until other countries start installing these types of roads, we need to be the forefront.  If America takes the lead in trying to reverse the damage done, other countries will begrudgingly follow.