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The challenges ahead for solar roadways

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Turns out I’m not the only hater in town when it comes to the “solar freakin’ roadways” project. Since I wrote that “we don’t need solar roadways, we need to unleash current solar panels,” back in May the solar roadway’s Indiegogo project raised $2.2 million, over double their goal of $1 million. But Scientific American just published a well researched take down of the hard road ahead that such a technology would face — the article looks into the technical and cost hurdles. Check it out here if you’ve been following this project.

10 Responses to “The challenges ahead for solar roadways”

  1. quiviran

    I didn’t find the ScAm article to be particularly well researched and certainly not convincing. It was sort of scientificy because the used meters instead of feet. It would have been nice if they had bothered to describe the area of the prototype installation instead of the length (solar panels work on area, don’tcha know). For example. 3.6 KW out of an array 11 meters (36 feet) long and a mile wide is not so hot. You could tease out of the information it was probably about 4 metres (that’s extra scientificy with the extra “e”)(12 feet or so).

    Snarkiness aside, Im not sure every flat surface in the country is the right path. What I saw in the project was a tightly integrated, modular solar array configuration that could springboard in some very interesting directions. As far as the “What do you do at night?” question, its the same as any solar installation. The grid or batteries. If you’re going to replace the grid, you’ll definitely need batteries. This is infrastructure at its heart. The invisible hand of the market never produces infrastructure.

    It’s easy to be negative. I think this falls into the class “it doesn’t matter if you think you can or you think you can’t. You’re probably right.”

  2. Craig Plunkett

    I think that the concept of Solar Roadways should be embraced as the Apollo project was. The vision of Solar Roadways, with their redesigned concept for communications, electrical, water and sewer ducts, is fantastic.

    In some places, the complete vision will work, but in others, fewer components of that vision will. Take the best of the concepts, and built it into future versions of infrastructure.

  3. EnergySage

    Solar roadways are an exciting idea.There are so many new innovations that are being developed that it can be hard to know when to make an investment. Why go solar now when so many new cool pieces of tech are right around the corner? The reality is that rooftop solar PV is here now and it’s affordable. And the sooner you make the solar switch, the sooner you’ll hedge against rising electricity costs and the more you’ll save. Learn more about deciding when you should go solar –

  4. Rick Ritter

    I read the SA article and found it to be a brief discussion of issues that may need to be addressed by Solar Roadways. I did not see it as “take down” of the effort. With the funding raised via Indiegogo and the interest of many others lining up to pursue test projects many, if not all, of those issues will likely be addressed. The project has come a long way and certainly has a lot of work to do to reach their vision. I can think of many things that were harshly critiqued by all kinds of naysayers that are pretty commonplace today. Katie, how would you do your job today if the people who created the computer/laptop/tablet and the internet had listened to their critics? Maybe their vision of all roadways being solar seems outrageous and too expensive today but so do day trips to the moon and living on Mars. Why not dream big??

      • Why then do you describe yourself as “not the only hater in town”? Are you hoping they’ll prove you wrong on the engineering, or on your emotions about the engineering?

    • pauliew


      Criticism is vital and should be nothing to be afraid of. The solar roadway is a fantastical idea that is fraught with many many problems in terms of its effectiveness. There are millions of inventors out there who all believe their concepts can change the world. There needs to be a mechinism of critique in place to sort the good ideas, misguided ideas and con men. Allowing critique and scrutiny is part of the scientific process and it should be respected.

      If Solar roadways is beneficial and cost effective it should flourish. But their are a lot of genuine and very obvious problems that the developers need to answer.

      For example, one of the plans is to cover car parks with the panels. Car parks are full of cars in the day when the sun shines and empty at night when the sun doesn’t shine. This is a major flaw.

      And whilst the glass may be super tough the surface below may not be. Have you seen sidewalks covered with paving slabs? After a while they always become warped. This cannot be allowed to happen on roads for obvious safety reasons. There may be ways to keep the roads flat but at what cost?

      All of these things need to be answered. It is up to the developers to prove the criticizers wrong not for criticizers to be told to shut up.

  5. Pouneh

    I’m with you Katie. It’s a cool futuristic idea you’d see in a sic-fi movie, but the reality is the obstacles are far too big at the moment (cost being the biggest). I’m glad people are looking into solutions, but maybe we should start with incremental changes that are possible/effective right now.

  6. Try and get something going without all the infrastructure involved. We couldn’t buy solar panels from Home Depot unless we went with the government plan costing many thousands of dollars and tying us into the grid.