The TED talk below covers the promise of Solar Roadways. But does this technology hold the promising future that the inventor and backers are promoting? For sure the benefits of a clean energy source from a huge area available around the world ( namely all roads) that could be used to power the vehicles itself as well as homes and businesses is compelling. Including in the road panels a sensing system to detect animals and obstructions on the road would also be a great safety feature. Add some LED lighting and the new roadway panels seem like the greatest think since sliced bread. Right?
The reality is that as you add complexity to the roadway panel past the interconnection of the electric wiring such as sensors, intelligence and lighting the harder it will be to make a durable , easily connectable , reliable panel connection system. Lets assume that the manufactured panels have a failure rate of 0.1 % per year which is extremely optimistic. This would mean that for every thousand panels you would have one failure. If we assume that a panel is one meter square to make the math easier ( I believe the current design is much smaller ) this would mean that for every kilometer of road there would be 10,000 panels connected. If we assume that the road is 10 panels wide then you can expect to have 10 failed panels for every 1 km of road. For a solar roadway that is say 300 kms long you could expect 3000 panel failures. The system’s electric collection system would have to be made to allow for this to ensure the power keeps flowing, however the sensors and lighting systems would no longer be functioning in the failed panel. Best case only one of the systems would have failed.
Add this to the fact that roads must hold up to very heavy vehicles travelling at high speeds, ( plus braking ,accelerating and lane changes ) and that the panels must be laid on a under-surface that does not shift over time and you start to see a recipe for a high maintenance , low reliability system. It is an interesting idea for sure but once the true costs for this are realized I doubt that anyone will want to shell out the cash for it.
I hope that I am wrong.
Tracey is an accountant and entrepreneur with a passion for nature. This passion is what spurred her interest in renewable energy, and the rest is history as they say. Tracey is a principal in Energy Think Group, the publisher of Solar Thermal Magazine and Tek-Think. She is also the principal at Women's Financial Help Desk. She spends her free time in the outdoors with her horses and dogs. She loves to travel.