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Solar Roadways Project Beats $1M Goal, Should Enter Production

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the ok-but-what's-the-resolution dept.

Transportation 311

Lucas123 (935744) writes "It appears an Idaho-based company that created prototype panels for constructing roads that (among other features) gather solar power, will be going into production after it exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $1M. ... Solar Roadways' Indiegogo project has already exceeded $1.6 million. The hexagonal-shaped solar panels consist of four layers, including photovoltaic cells, LED lights, an electronic support structure (circuit board) and a base layer made of recyclable materials. The panels plug together to form circuits that can then use LED lights to create any number of traffic patterns, as well as issue lighted warnings for drivers. The panels also have the ability to melt snow and ice. Along with the crowdfunding money, Solar Roadways has received federal grant money for development."

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Deja vu (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135297)

The greatest thing since Solyndra?

Re:Deja vu (3, Insightful)

phrostie (121428) | about 5 months ago | (#47135349)

I was a bit skeptical when I'd first heard about this.

What I hope happens is that they start off focusing on commercial applications like parking lots and drive ways.
That will give the technology time mature and the price to come down.

otherwise yeah, I suspect we'll be rebuilding a lot of roads as they work the real world bugs out.

Re:Deja vu (4, Informative)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135397)

That is, in fact, their plan.

Read about it on the "Vision" page of their website: http://www.solarroadways.com/v... [solarroadways.com]

Re:Deja vu (3, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 months ago | (#47135401)

I really hate to be skeptical, especially with a project with goals as desirable as this, however I just don't see it happening. Road surfaces receive an enormous amount of wear. The current state of materials technology just isn't able to deliver the properties that such a surface would need to have to provide the described functionality.

Don't get me wrong, I really, really want this to succeed. It's just that we still can't make a solid bitumen road resistant to cracks in the long term, so how can we hope to make electronics and other far more fragile components match or exceed that level of durability without making the costs skyrocket to the point that it is not economically viable. Airports, with their massive budgets, have runways with *some* of that functionality, and they already require regular maintenance. The $ per square meter spent on a runway at an airport is more than a few orders of magnitude more than that spent on public roads.

Anyway, let's watch and hope.

Re:Deja vu (5, Informative)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135423)

They address this on their website:

"What are you going to do about traction? What's going to happen to the surface of the Solar Roadways when it rains>

Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer - even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.

We sent samples of textured glass to a university civil engineering lab for traction testing. We started off being able to stop a car going 40 mph on a wet surface in the required distance. We designed a more and more aggressive surface pattern until we got a call form the lab one day: we'd torn the boot off of the British Pendulum Testing apparatus! We backed off a little and ended up with a texture that can stop a vehicle going 80 mph in the required distance."

Not sure how true or relevant this is but they do address it.

Re:Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135479)

Its an interesting approach, but one would have to wonder how well that texture will hold up after 1,5,10 years of constant wear. Will it still hold up?

Motorcycles? (1)

jabberw0k (62554) | about 5 months ago | (#47135483)

Maybe for four-wheeled vehicles, but I dread encountering such a surface on my motorcycle when there's rain about.

Re:Motorcycles? (1)

Kneo24 (688412) | about 5 months ago | (#47135495)

Most people don't drive their motorcycles when it's raining in the first place. There's a reason for that...

Re:Motorcycles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135651)

Perhaps, but some do, and they need to be catered for when making decisions that affect public safety.

Re:Motorcycles? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135769)

Motorcycle jockeys are a bunch of faggots anyway. I look forward to those bitch ass tricks sliding down the road and hopefully into meat grinder. Fucking bitches deserve to die.

Re: Motorcycles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135785)

Such angst towards them. Troll much?

Re:Motorcycles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47136005)

Given the method in which you are attempting to speak, if you were actually that 'hood', you couldn't afford a computer to post said comment with. I suspect you're a pimply teen sitting comfortably in his mothers safe upper middle class suburban basement.

Re:Deja vu (-1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 5 months ago | (#47135491)

They address this on their website:

If all they say is what you quoted, no they do not address it on their website. What you quoted is not even close to addressing questions of wear and tear. I have to wonder why you thought that it did....

Shill much?

Re:Deja vu (4, Informative)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135921)

Sorry, I was scrolling up and down the page, got distracted, and copied the answer from the wrong question. Here's what they say:

"How will you replace damaged panels in a highway?

Since our system is modular, repair will be much quicker and easier than our current maintenance system for asphalt roads. We've learned that in the U.S., over $160 billion is lost each year in lost productivity from people sitting in traffic due to road maintenance.

Each of the panels contain their own microprocessor, which communicates wireless with surrounding panels. If one of them should become damaged and stop communicating, then the rest of the panels can report the problem. For instance, "I-95 mile marker 114.3 northbound lane, third panel in, panel number A013C419 not responding".

Each panel assembly weighs 110-pounds. A single operator could load a good panel into his/her truck and respond to the scene. The panel could be swapped out and reprogrammed in a few minutes. The damaged panel would then be returned to a repair center. Think of how this compares to pot hole repair!"

Re:Deja vu (2)

Mashiki (184564) | about 5 months ago | (#47135547)

Considering in Canada we don't even go a few years without normal asphalt disintegrating from regular weather I wonder how this stuff will hold up. Winter is a bitch, especially our rapid freeze/thaw cycles. -25C today +10C tomorrow is common.

Re:Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135559)

Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer - even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.

Glass is only semi-solid. So, any purposeful contours on the surface will tend to even out over time, thus requiring replacement.

I wonder just how often these will have to be replaced in order to maintain traction, doesn't sound cheap.

Re: Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135613)

glass is not a semi solid, this is a myth

Re: Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135759)

glass is not a semi solid, this is a myth

Glass isn't an amorphous solid?

It doesn't flow, but it's not as simple as that.

Re:Deja vu (2)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 5 months ago | (#47135703)

There is no clear answer to the question "Is glass solid or liquid?". In terms of molecular dynamics and thermodynamics it is possible to justify various different views that it is a highly viscous liquid, an amorphous solid, or simply that glass is another state of matter that is neither liquid nor solid. The difference is semantic. In terms of its material properties we can do little better. There is no clear definition of the distinction between solids and highly viscous liquids. All such phases or states of matter are idealisations of real material properties. Nevertheless, from a more common sense point of view, glass should be considered a solid since it is rigid according to everyday experience. The use of the term "supercooled liquid" to describe glass still persists, but is considered by many to be an unfortunate misnomer that should be avoided. In any case, claims that glass panes in old windows have deformed due to glass flow have never been substantiated. Examples of Roman glassware and calculations based on measurements of glass visco-properties indicate that these claims cannot be true. The observed features are more easily explained as a result of the imperfect methods used to make glass window panes before the float glass process was invented.

math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

Re:Deja vu (4, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 months ago | (#47135687)

You missed the whole point of durability that I mentioned.

In Thailand, many of the roads in the southern areas use glass balls as lane markers. They don't get driven over unless a wheel is in on the lane marker, hence, only a small fraction of the actual traffic. Nonetheless, it is plainly obvious that they just don't last. They are chipped and damaged to the point that they don't fulfill their function.

Roads are possibly the most abused surface mankind makes. No type of glass that we have access to could ever stand up to long term road wear. It's just not possible with today's tech. I really think that this is a grant scam, which is unfortunate, because the politicians being scammed will be less favourable to green projects the next time a real idea comes around.

Re:Deja vu (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#47135667)

It's just that we still can't make a solid bitumen road resistant to cracks in the long term,

If you made a road out of solid bitumen, then it would be resistant to cracks, but it would also be resistant to rolling. It would glue your car down to the road bed as you sunk into it.

so how can we hope to make electronics and other far more fragile components match or exceed that level of durability without making the costs skyrocket to the point that it is not economically viable

One of these things is not like the other. Solar panels are actually amazingly durable. I don't know of anybody driving over them, though. On the other hand, some of these fancy new kinds of glass are fairly astounding. On the gripping hand, what kind of additives do they require?

Re:Deja vu (1)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 months ago | (#47135739)

When I said "solid bitumen", I was referring to traditional road materials, and not a bitumen only tarpit. Sorry for not being specific.

Also, "durable" is a relative term. We're talking about roads. Solar panels are durable when compared to, say, laptop screens. They are not durable in the context of road surfaces. Yes, there are amazing glass types around today, but once again, in the context of road surfaces, I don't think glass is, or could ever be, an appropriate material.

Bitumen+gravel is used because the stone gravel provides excellent wear resistance while the bitumen holds it in a flexible and self-healing suspension. It is still the best road surface material we have by a country mile.

Re:Deja vu (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#47135745)

Bitumen+gravel is used because the stone gravel provides excellent wear resistance while the bitumen holds it in a flexible and self-healing suspension. It is still the best road surface material we have by a country mile.

I share your concerns, as well as your appreciation for asphalt road surfaces, but I don't think we can't do better. What is glass but a sort of artificial rock? I've got a nice big chunk of obsidian in my yard...

Re:Deja vu (1)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 months ago | (#47135925)

Glass (and obsidian for that matter) are crystalline in structure, making them hard and brittle. Exactly what you do not want in a road surface. Rock on the other hand is usually an amalgam of several materials, meaning that it can be scraped and chipped, but is less likely to develop cracks that propagate. Using regular ordinary gravel in asphalt also means that the rock pieces are not subject to localized large forces, as the exposed surfaces of the gravel stones flex away thanks to the bitumen. The twin properties of flexibility and a hard wearing surface are what make asphalt able to stand up to being hit with tonnes of force hundreds of thousands of times a year and still last decades between having to be relaid.

I agree that it's probably not the case that we can't do better, but the question is about current materials technology and economic viability. Could we do better if we spent $1m per square meter of road surface? Possibly, with those newly emerging exotic resins and fibers. Would a $1m/sqm price tag mean that the project has any chance of success? No.

Re:Deja vu (1)

tapi0 (2805569) | about 5 months ago | (#47135973)

Current roads last a decade? Where? Seems round here the roads are resurfaced annually.

Re:Deja vu (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | about 5 months ago | (#47135545)

Looking at their business plan, they are headed straight for failure. Reason is actually very simple. Roads are a key part of basic infrastructure. As a result, we need many of them, and they need to be cheap to construct and cheap to maintain.

Their idea of a road is extremely expensive to build regardless of mass production or technology advancement in comparison to modern roads for very obvious reasons, and maintenance is unknown but likely also astronomically higher.

Essentially this is a choice of having the road network we have today, or having nothing but major intercity roads if even than and no other roads (because cost of these will swallow all the budget and then some).

Re: Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135781)

Really? A combination isn't possible? Like we have now? Some government operated roads are gravel, but not all.

Re:Deja vu (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | about 5 months ago | (#47136125)

Trying to figure out where the cheap inexpensive roads are that you're demanding? Current technology in road systems doesn't appear to have made any quantum leaps lately. Still hundreds of millions a year in America to fix existing roads. Seems like a worthwhile research project to even costs out for the infrastructure.

Re:Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135589)

This Solar Roadway Project is private sector project like T. Boone Pickens Energy biz while solyndra was public sector job like nasa and bureaucrats so...

So... (1, Insightful)

Travis Mansbridge (830557) | about 5 months ago | (#47135301)

They can melt snow, as long as they're not covered in snow and can receive solar power..

Seriously though, roads of rock and tar are already expensive as it is, how much is it going to cost to produce an entire road of these tiles? Is it really worth all that to read markings off the road directly instead of looking at signs?

Re:So... (1)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135409)

Let's exaggerate the cost $100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Let's also say at the end they pay for themselves and then some. You could take out a loan to pay for them and pay the money back with the energy they produce. So does cost really matter if, in fact, they pay for themselves?

Re:So... (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 5 months ago | (#47135435)

"Let's exaggerate the cost $100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Let's also say at the end they pay for themselves and then some. You could take out a loan to pay for them"

You must have a very good credit rating if you can borrow $10^26

And who are you going to borrow it from? Theres not that much money on this planet.

If you could get that sort of money you could pay Magrathea to build you a whole new planet, and bribe the Vogons not to blow it up

Re:So... (1)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135461)

The government borrows money from itself all the time. Not a big deal, especially if this is rolled out over a few decades. And clearly, I was exaggerating the amount to make a point.

We just spent $4 trillion on a couple of wars over 10 years. Where there is a will to find the money, there is a way.

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135603)

I heard that you can ask Zimbabwe for such amounts of money and they'll be happy to mail you a few 100 trillon dollars notes.

Re:So... (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47135467)

If you could get that sort of money you could pay Magrathea to build you a whole new planet, and bribe the Vogons not to blow it up.

Yeah, but you know how Vogons are. Who the hell would want to go through that kilometre-high pile of paperwork?

Re:So... (1)

Delarth799 (1839672) | about 5 months ago | (#47135503)

Lawyers, we have so many of them doing such damaging things to the world already. I say we enslave half of them and use them to fill out the paperwork.

Re:So... (1)

GooDieZ (802156) | about 5 months ago | (#47135581)

Why only half of them?

Re:So... (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 5 months ago | (#47136095)

This thinking if why America is in such incredible trouble right now, and it's how people are going to go into generational slavery soon.

Re:So... (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about 5 months ago | (#47135543)

not to mention the 'heating element' covers the thing? wtf? And it would have to be very hot to metl snow fast enough not to require plowing. And just imaging what a plow could do to it. How do they handle frost heaves and other shifts in the road bed?

this whole thing is impractical for roads... maybe walkways it might work.

So... (1)

cpaalman (696554) | about 5 months ago | (#47135595)

So a company wants to try out some new idea/technology and with public funding is able to scale it up enough for a more serous rollout.

Succeed or fail, I'm excited that people continue to try and innovate.

It's not your tax dollars being wasted if it fails, so why not let innovation (man-made evolution) veer off in a new direction and see where it takes us.

So... (1)

doctor_subtilis (1266720) | about 5 months ago | (#47135753)

The current method being expensive has no bearing on whether or not this method will prove futile or at least overly expensive. Especially because the costs are never-ending and many roads in the US are beyond their intended life. It's quite obvious that the hullabaloo over this idea is that it will mean maintenance costs are negligible (this is the idea at least) in comparison to current roads (where complete reconstruction is needed) and the roads themselves become energy capital! It's quite obvious to anyone aware of the costs and the process involved in road maintenance that our current method is not sustainable nor efficient. That's why some states use tolls and others just say "you deal with it" through adopt-a-highway programs.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135307)

This sounds so prohibitively expensive to build and maintain that I don't see how any energy gained from the solar panels makes it worth it, especially since they are going to be covered by cars for a large portion of the time.

Please explain how this is better than asphalt?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135331)

Covered by cars, in congestion maybe. Are you saying all of the road are constantly covered in traffic jams ?

Re:Why? (1)

nysus (162232) | about 5 months ago | (#47135419)

Cost doesn't matter if they pay for themselves. "If" being the operative word here. But if it's true, it makes no difference how much more expensive they are than asphalt.

Even if they do cost more than asphalt after factoring in the electricty they produce, how do you place a cost on avoiding all the human misery that will come about from climate change?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135561)

Yeah, you are right that the cost doesn't matter when they are paid themselves with fools money and thermodynamic fairies.

Re:Why? (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | about 5 months ago | (#47135569)

I've looked at their costs, and right now there's not enough money on the entire planet to replace even a portion of US road network with what they have.

Re:Why? (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47135809)

What about if we pay for it with space cash?

Re:Why? (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 5 months ago | (#47135507)

This sounds so prohibitively expensive to build and maintain that I don't see how any energy gained from the solar panels makes it worth it, especially since they are going to be covered by cars for a large portion of the time.

Please explain how this is better than asphalt?

From the Solar Roadways FAQ:

Since our system is modular, repair will be much quicker and easier than our current maintenance system for asphalt roads. We've learned that in the U.S., over $160 billion is lost each year in lost productivity from people sitting in traffic due to road maintenance.

What they're saying is that between reduced cost of paving, filling potholes, etc, and the reduced loss of productivity that results from less construction/maintenance, the system should pretty much pay for itself. (Also, it might make sens to factor in reduced healthcare costs and legal costs from fewer accidents as a result of better nighttime visibility, etc).

Initially the cost will probably be huge, especially accounting for the 'things they don't know they don't know' that will bite them during initial deployments. But I think in the end it will be a net economic benefit, especially since it's also an opportunity in many cases to bury vulnerable overhead lines, install additional data communications backbones, and possibly even reduce carbon footprints significantly. Besides 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' - big ideas like this are how civilization advances.

Thermodynamically Impossible (4, Interesting)

Cassini2 (956052) | about 5 months ago | (#47135321)

Isn't it impossible for solar cells to melt significant snow?

The black road surface will effectively capture almost all of the sun's energy. In the northern U.S. and Canada, roads routinely get covered in snow.

The solar cell can capture a portion of the sun's incoming energy, and potentially use it to power heaters to melt the snow. This approach has several problems. Firstly, the solar cells / heater mechanism is less energy efficient than a black road surface. Secondly, if the snow falls when it is dark, the solar cell will stop working (unless it has some big batteries are present, and even they won't last long in a heavy snow fall.) Lastly, the best sun occurs in the summer, and the snow hits in the winter, when less solar energy is available.

About the only way a solar cell can keep up with incoming snow is if the solar array is much larger than the area of snow being melted. However, even then, you still have the problem of the solar array getting covered in snow ...

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (4, Insightful)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 5 months ago | (#47135353)

> Isn't it impossible for solar cells to melt significant snow?

Yes. Obviously if there is enough energy in the sunlight to melt the snow, the snow would melt already.

Heating snow to clear it is multiply-times less efficient than scraping it off with a snowplow.

This whole idea is the dumbest thing I've seen in years, designed by someone who knows nothing about solar power or road engineering. Ask anyone on the planet who's ever had a re-lay a cobblestone road surface how well they think this will work.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135829)

Seriously, cobblestone?

I'm a transportation engineer (I'm posting this anonymously so the details of my employment are not associated to my account) though with very little experience designing pavements. What my experience tells me though is that regardless of the panel itself it needs some sort of frame to hold it down.

Vehicles generate thousands of pounds of force parallel to the pavement face when they brake. This is what causes rippling in pavement at intersections when the asphalt is too soft or weak. So they've got the friction to stop the car what transfers that force to the ground (and prevents the ground from shifting)? Naturally you are going to need some sort of frame with very positive connection to the ground. That sounds unbelievably expensive. Current roadway costs are near $2 million dollars per lane mile (a 12 wide width of pavement 1 mile long). The materials that make up the roadway are generally pretty cheap (various engineered sands and gravels) and are applied to the roadway using large heavy equipment with very little human labor. You've now replaced that with presumably the same base system (you still have the same loads) a metal frame to hold the panel in place and the panel (these systems would replace the hard surface ie the asphalt or concrete). Even a minimal frame material wise is going to massively expensive. Steel is very very expensive in rough bar form (in comparison to things like concrete and asphalt), let alone in machined frames that require manual hand labor to install. What happens when a frame is bent? How's it anchored? Even massively damaged pavements are usually traversable, a missing or damaged panel sounds like a 2' circumference 1' deep pothole that will rip a tire off a vehicle at speed.

The next question is durability. They say they've tested them with truck loads, have they done the standard AASHTO pavement test that involves driving a semi around (in a 1/4 mile loop track) on them for 5 years straight to demonstrate long term durability? What about studded snow tires? What about an accident where a car flips at 70 mph and imparts forces that literally pulverize concrete to powder? What if the car then burns (a typical car fire approaches 3000 degrees) What about an accident where hazardous or corrosive products are spilled? What happens when a car being chased by the cops has it's tires shredded but then keeps driving on rims for 20 miles until the rims literally weld themselves to the rotor (the typical result on standard pavement is about a half inch groove from every rim for the length the car ran without rubber)? What about road debris coming off cars and hitting other cars (I've seen sections of concrete a foot thick destroyed by heavy objects falling off semis)?

How long are the panels good for? We design asphalt roads for 20 years and concrete for 40-50 years. And though the asphalt requires perodic treatments as part of it's life cycle unless a mistake was made they generally last that long. Most of the interstates lasted far longer than the 40 years they were designed for, in my state we've still got original interstate in locations that is approaching 60 years old.

We use the materials we do in roads because they are cheap, easy to put down (ie not labor intensive) and easy to fix (a temporary fix can involve dumping and spreading a load of gravel with common construction equipment). This system just screams money, and labor and lack of durability. Maybe I'll be wrong, I suspect I won't be. The ESALs (equivalent single axle loads) that a pavement takes over a life time can be astonishing (trillions of pounds of force over a 20-40 year lifetime). The panel and frame that support this are going to be flexed billions of times a year, fatigue fractures are a very real concern in metals.

Anyway, as I say I might end up wrong, i suspect I won't. I'm astonished people donated a million bucks for this and I believe once they do the real AASHTO testing that will be required before this can be used on roads they will demonstrate failure and when combined with a cost that is factors larger than current costs it will simply be a non-starter. We can't get the funding we need for the roads at the costs they are right now, a 10 or 100 fold increase in costs would be catastrophic to roadway maintenance and would either mean massive failures or a massive tax increase.

I wish them luck but I think this is a doomed idea from someone without the real knowledge of what the constraints and issues are on roadways.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47136107)

You've hit the nail on the head. While this is cute for their driveway for making a disco, it will never see the light/night of day on any street. Unless these were cheaper than asphalt, more durable, and weren't smart to invade our privacy any further, they will go nowhere. Do we really need a road to spy on us now too? Imagine the road knowing where you came from, where you go, how much weight, how fast, etc. Here's your tax bill. And your 8 fines. I think not.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 5 months ago | (#47135901)

The thing is that it is not snowing most of the time so you only need the heat for brief periods of time. The road can soak up the solar power over many days (where individually each day could not provided the power) and dump it's power over a short period of time to heat the road to melt the snow.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47136003)

you are so funny, where do you live? northern florida? what you say does not hold true in the midwest or northern states.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135355)

I agree with you in theory, but if this is hooked to a new smart grid we could always feed power back into the cells to melt the roads and then the cells are clear and could give the power back - so zero net cost. They don't really have any answers I see on the website, but just thinking one step out from the video's comment on 'smart grid'.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

Issarlk (1429361) | about 5 months ago | (#47135365)

They want to have plenty of those road, so it could be imagined that roads in an area would melt the snow using energy collected by roads where the weather is better.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47135489)

Even if we're talking about using solar power from tiles in Texas to melt the snow covering tiles in Vermont, we're talking about moving gigawatts+ of power here. I don't think these tiles could replace the huge power transmission lines.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135611)

Fortunately there are other solutions than moving power expressly from Texas to Vermont.

Including just using a generator powered by burning the oil you'd use to send out those snow plows.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

TheGavster (774657) | about 5 months ago | (#47135391)

Solar powered melting devices have two advantages over blacktop from a thermodynamic perspective:
- Blacktop conducts part of the collected heat into the ground, whereas solar collection could hypothetically collect the energy before it gets to the ground, leaving more available to radiate back upward.
- When it isn't snowing, blacktop still radiates into the air above it. These devices could store energy to be released only when it's actually snowing.

That said, implementing these devices as anything other than a billionaire's ruinously expensive driveway seems impractical. The actual devices would be absurdly expensive to produce in that quantity with the amount of semiconductor fabrication and precision assembly. Ignoring materials, installation would cost much more than a normal highway, since this essentially combines the labor-intensiveness of a cobblestone road with the specialized labor requirements of a hardwood floor. Lastly, that energy storage mechanism that makes it remotely feasible would be similar to replacing the fuel tanks at every gas station with the batteries of a Tesla charging station.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135549)

we're just going to store all the energy of the sun until we need it. THEN when we need it, we can release the energy of the sun at 100% efficiency?

Now you see the holes in your plan

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47135629)

essentially combines the labor-intensiveness of a cobblestone road with the specialized labor requirements of a hardwood floor

IF ONLY!

The plan is to have large concrete access channels [gizmag.com] underneath the hexes.
Big enough for a man (or a wild dog, or a bear, or a nest of snakes, or wasps...) to crawl through.

Cobblestone roads?
These are concrete crawlspaces filled with easily harvestable copper and covered with electronics with built-in heating elements.

You know how roads tend not to spontaneously catch fire then burn for miles underground and you can't put them out with water cause they are electrified?
Well if this ever makes it off the parking lot you will.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 5 months ago | (#47135417)

From the Solar Roadways FAQ:

We designed our prototype to use 'virtual storage', meaning that any excess energy is placed back to the grid during daylight hours and then can be drawn back out of the grid at night. This is important as solar energy is only available during the day, but our heating elements need to have power at night in the wintertime in northern climates for snowy weather. However, we can add any current or future energy storage devices to our system. For instance, batteries and flywheels can be placed in the Cable Corridor for easy access, if customers wish to incorporate them. We chose to not use batteries in our prototype system. We fear that, if we make that the norm, our environmental project could leave mountains of lead acid battery in its wake."

Because solar roads will be on the electrical grid as both producers and consumers, the net effect is that roads and parking lots that aren't under snow cover, (because they've been plowed already, or because they're in a snowless region), provide power to offset that used to melt snow on roads that do have snow falling on them. Yes, this means that the snow melting capability will only be significant when the total road surface area 'paved' with these cells reaches a certain critical point - as with so many things economy of scale plays a role.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135455)

False, the solar roadway is part of the power grid, it means for a limited time it will draw additional power from the grid in winter to melt the snow and then it switches back to normal operation.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47135641)

False, the solar roadway is part of the power grid, it means for a limited time it will draw additional power from the grid in winter to melt the snow and then it switches back to normal operation.

Well, I guess winter IS a limited period of time.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135465)

Isn't it impossible for solar cells to melt significant snow?

The black road surface will effectively capture almost all of the sun's energy. In the northern U.S. and Canada, roads routinely get covered in snow.

The solar cell can capture a portion of the sun's incoming energy, and potentially use it to power heaters to melt the snow. This approach has several problems. Firstly, the solar cells / heater mechanism is less energy efficient than a black road surface. Secondly, if the snow falls when it is dark, the solar cell will stop working (unless it has some big batteries are present, and even they won't last long in a heavy snow fall.) Lastly, the best sun occurs in the summer, and the snow hits in the winter, when less solar energy is available.

About the only way a solar cell can keep up with incoming snow is if the solar array is much larger than the area of snow being melted. However, even then, you still have the problem of the solar array getting covered in snow ...

While I agree that the idea seems pretty dumb, the stated thermodynamic argument is incorrect. With white snow covering the roads, most sunlight will be reflected, and thus the roads will not capture the sun's energy. While the roads will be able to absorb the energy without snow there, this energy is wasted as it is dissipated (in fact, it will most likely even have a detrimental effect, as it expands the road's surface, causing cracks and potholes). With solar cells, a certain percentage of the Sun's energy can be captured, and put into the grid. Then, when the roads need to be heated, energy can be sent back from the grid to heat the solar cells and melt the snow.

It would make more sense to just have large solar arrays in the desert in my opinion, and then roads with built in heating elements, if required, or maybe just better ways to deal with snow.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#47135593)

It would make more sense to just have large solar arrays in the desert in my opinion, and then roads with built in heating elements, if required, or maybe just better ways to deal with snow.

I think there are supposed to be multiple arguments for these roads in these locations. In theory, they could last longer than normal road and actually reduce maintenance costs. And if you're going to integrate heating elements, then it would be nice if they were in a section of road that would hold up. Sure, the road might not be able to actually clear its own snow, but the supposed advantage is that the road will be able to provide some of the power for its own clearing.

The basic question is whether these roads can be significantly more durable than tarmac. If not, then they're a non-starter. I drive on the CA 101 regularly, a big part of it is made out of concrete and as the land has settled the difficulty (impossibility, really) of meaningful maintenance has become a major problem. But if they do last, and moreover if they can be lifted up so that the bed can be maintained, then I think they do actually have the potential to eventually replace all roads. Eventually, the roads themselves become the power grids, which eliminates all of the power lines, nice bonus. And as well, eventually they can provide wireless charging to EVs.

I have serious doubts that we're anywhere near there, and I suspect the durability will not be up to snuff. But I'd [obviously] love to be wrong.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 5 months ago | (#47135487)

Their FAQ addresses this specific point. The heaters are powered by the grid, not solar alone. The solar panels feed in to the grid and then draw back out from it at night out when heating is required, eliminating the need for batteries.

Re:Thermodynamically Impossible (1)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about 5 months ago | (#47135541)

I don't think the plan is to melt snow from the energy generated from the panels but would require an input of energy. Obviously there are few things more effective in turning incident solar energy into heat than black rough surfaced asphalt.

Imagine the opacity of the glass surface after a few days of traffic with steel studs or rocks caught in the treads or just tires driving over blown dirt and dust .

The idea of a solar roadway sounds great to the intuitive but lousy to the analytical and practical.

Fast moving trucks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135335)

Just wait until an 80,000lb truck going 60mph starts flipping up those tiles like flapjacks.

A great idea with a lot of potential problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135337)

Sorry to go there with what looks like a very interesting idea (and one the likes of which we've been reading about in futurist manifestos for years), but *a lot* of potential issues come to mind here.

Who's going to produce this at a scale necessary to cover all roads? What's the cost/benefit there in terms of initial production and pollution related to producing these panels on that scale? How is the power stored, how efficiently *can* it be stored and what additional infrastructure is involved there?

Those are just a few questions. But, best of luck to this project!

Cost and Practice (1)

NotWallaceStevens (701541) | about 5 months ago | (#47135345)

This notion appears cost-prohibitive and I don't believe they mention cost studies in their video presentation. In addition, we don't seem to be maintaining the road infrastructure we have, which is based on a much simpler technology. In practice, this new solar road infrastructure would appear to require considerably more than we are unable to devote now.

Re:Cost and Practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135381)

This notion appears cost-prohibitive and I don't believe they mention cost studies in their video presentation. In addition, we don't seem to be maintaining the road infrastructure we have, which is based on a much simpler technology. In practice, this new solar road infrastructure would appear to require considerably more than we are unable to devote now.

And your point is? (says the contractor in charge of this never-ending construction project getting paid by the day to keep it going infinitely)

In other words, you act like this particular road construction project is or will be any less corrupt or piss-poorly managed than any other road construction going on today.

It isn't. I guarantee if you follow the money, someone is going to get very rich off this for a very long time, and in the end, we will be staring at "Under Construction" and "Coming Soon" signs for the next decade.

Critical piece in The Verge (4, Informative)

De Lemming (227104) | about 5 months ago | (#47135359)

The Verge had a good article criticizing this project [theverge.com] . The article doesn't break down the project completely, but points out why their goals are far-fetched, and people should not get too exited.

Also note that when looking at the project, it's not initially clear that a connection with the main electricity grid is still necessary. At night, displaying the signs and defrosting the road is done with electricity from the net. During the day, the solar panels can transfer electricity back to the grid. Their current implementation doesn't include batteries to store electricity locally, and this wouldn't be very environmentally friendly anyway.

Re:Critical piece in The Verge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135735)

Read the FAQ carefully. They don't connect to the grid at all; they provide DC power on a parallel grid. The power they'd supply to homes and businesses would be separate from any transmission grid.

Any connection to the grid would have to be done separately, and any connection to AC-powered homes would need conversion. They actually mention one of their moonshot goals being a conversion of all outlet power to DC so it'd be compatible with their parallel grid.

Such a stupid, wasted idea. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135361)

They will literally die before this can ever pay off.
Their kids would die before this can ever pay off.

Solar does NOT work well in such passive conditions. Solar is TERRIBLE for such uses, in fact.
The cost to lay one road of reasonable size is INSANE. Not to mention these things will be OUTDATED by the time one road is finished. (again, reasonable length, not some back-alley roads. which would be terrible at that)

These panels will have an effective use of between 9am and 3pm at best because of how bad solar panels are in regards to direction. And the efficiency drops off bad after that.
Do they SERIOUSLY think they can get enough energy in these things to heat snow off? Will they hell. They will get enough heat to make dangerous icy roads!
We haven't even went in to the massive amount of storage required, the HUGE amount of wiring required, not just wiring, COMPUTING, all at the sides or under roads (I forgot which)
NOPE. Not happening. It isn't even an opinion.

You want to know what would have been better? Laying miles of heat absorbing pipes right under the tar and adding a few exchangers.
That would actually work. Wouldn't work well, but it would be CHEAP for a start.
You can semi-automate a bunch of the work:
Truck with dual-saw cutting up the road in a little slice.
Another with a pneumatic head digging up the middle section.
Workers to dig those bits out and clean the cut.
Another truck comes along and unrolls the wire in to it with people helping guide it in to place.
Another behind that laying replacement ground materials.
Stain the whole road dark.
Instantly more useful than this awful solar road.
You can put a damn hose and heat exchanger in your back garden for pennies / cents in comparison to this.

This solar idea does not scale well at all.
I LIKE solar, but it isn't happening, this is one place solar should never be used. It isn't efficient enough to offset the STUPIDLY high cost to place it on even one road of worth.
It could work better in so many areas. On top of parking. On roof tops.
They could have made a sliding panel on top that has a lens that sends the sunlight at a better angle for more of the day and tracks the sun, cheap to build, not expensive like having a huge tracking system (dish) like typical installations, so many others.
Maybe come back in a few decades when metamaterial solar panels exist, that might be worth it.
This? This is free money from delusional people. Sorry, but it is true. Such a wasted idea.

Re:Such a stupid, wasted idea. (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | about 5 months ago | (#47135601)

They got a million dollars from people who they fooled into thinking they have something however. It's not he who asks, but he who pays after being asked that's at fault here.

They presented their project fairly well, and anyone with understanding of how things work in this world understood that it has no chance of succeeding. About the only complaint I have about this project is that if someone has extra income and they want to feel good about themselves, they would have done better putting money in countless other projects that actually have a chance of succeeding.

Re:Such a stupid, wasted idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135881)

You know, that's the interesting thing about R&D: If you find someone with a vision and an interesting idea, let them go do some tinkering, you will likely end up with something interesting. It might not be the thing that you started with, or what you thought you were getting, but still end up with something that has value.

Replace roads? Not likely. Blacktops, plazas, bike paths? Far more plausible.

Magic is Magic (2)

governorx (524152) | about 5 months ago | (#47135363)

Honestly this seems too good to be true. I see this endeavour never making it past a trial phase as per the below:

Disclaimer: I haven't done too much research on the subject past viewing that video that went viral a week ago.

1) Capital Cost: Looks expensive. Think of all the trenching/corridors that would need to be built. Never mind the electrical infrastructure which I think would need to be upgraded. The incremental cost to add all this to existing and even new road development is intuitively high. Especially since those corridors need to be accessible by humans. Now you need to talk about regulations, air quality, distance to exits, etc etc etc.
2) Maintenance Cost: Ever wonder why there are deep gouges along the roads? Some of them are from broken axles which have a tendency get jammed into the pavement. Other times its caused by overloaded trucks dragging the corner of a low trailer through the pavement for 100's of miles. One truck could potentially destroy hundreds of thousands of these panels in one trip.
I also have a feeling that you will need more maintenance crews to maintain such roads.
3) Magic is Magic: This whole fad solves all the worlds problems including cancer. (Sarcasm). Sounds too good to be true. Generally it is.

I have a lot of technical concerns as well relating to electrical infrastructure, performance of cells, required cleanliness of cells, vehicle safety and so on. I have a nagging feeling this idea was peddled to most investors who dismissed it on the same above grounds and the inability to monetize this idea. It seems by approaching an optimistic (hopeful) and uneducated public they found a million dollars worth of sucker money as I don't see this project fulfilling its claims.

However, just because I am skeptical doesn't mean I want this idea to fail. Someone needs to take steps to save the planet.

Dream on,

- gov

Re:Magic is Magic (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47135763)

It seems by approaching an optimistic (hopeful) and uneducated public they found a million dollars worth of sucker money

That's a BINGO!

Someone needs to take steps to save the planet.

HAD they made this to be installable as easily as a macadam road, and as robust and scalable, there is a VERY slight chance that somewhere down the very long road this would actually benefit the environment.
Mainly because something like that is pure science fiction.

Instead, they made this in such a way that it must sit on a HUGE foundation of concrete, with both access shafts along the whole thing AND storm-drain channels (storm-water is apparently a pollutant according to their video) AND every tile has LEDs and heaters so the road would stay dry in the winter.

Except... concrete leaches CO2.
And tiles can't heat up if there is no sun - so they will suck coal/oil/gas/nuclear during the winter in hopes of heating up enough to catch meager couple of hours of sunlight as that's the time when days are the shortest.
And since it is envisioned that ALL markings will be presented with LEDs instead of simply painted on (yeah... good luck with that) - these babies would be sucking on the coal titty the rest of the year as well.

This is a case of a couple of delusional hippies with a "dream" and egos big enough that they've just kept on stacking more and more on the project needlessly trying to reinvent the wheel.

The wheel being - "You want solar parking lots and roads? Put the panels on the side of the road and on top of the parking spaces. Park in the shade. Drive in the shade. There! Where's my million dollars?"

Re:Magic is Magic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135833)

Ya know, before trying to look all sophisticated with your sig, ya might want to run that google translate by a native speaker...

nur sagen

Future downside to solar power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135415)

When I see articles such as this, showing the advances being made in capturing energy from the sun, i think it's only a matter of time before it will become widespread. And my layman thinking believes it would be great, to see us harness us the sun in such a way, and be able to give up humanities need for fossil fuels.

What I wonder is, what effect will this have on the planet. I mean once the technology becomes good enough for us to capture most of the energy that hits the earth from the sun, what will happen to the planet when it's being siphoned off?

Would this cause some kindof "global cooling"? Apologies for using such a phrase as I know the furore behind global warming, but it does make me wonder what the repercussions would be in the future. It seems that we're in a constant battle with the balance in nature, and no matter which energy we harness there will always be downsides to the change in equilibrium it produces.

Apologies for being off-topic, obviously this technology isn't cost effective nor practical, but it's a great idea.

Re:Future downside to solar power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135447)

When I see articles such as this, showing the advances being made in capturing energy from the sun, i think it's only a matter of time before it will become widespread. And my layman thinking believes it would be great, to see us harness us the sun in such a way, and be able to give up humanities need for fossil fuels.

And I think, "no way in hell is this particular idea ever going to be widespread." The technology here is not well thought out in terms of scalability. Sure, a much more advanced form of solar capture (or a much simpler form of solar capture) might work, but this will go wrong for a thousand different reasons, not the least of which is the ridiculous amount it's going to cost.

RIPOFF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135429)

Solarroadways looks like a ripoff of solaroad (http://vimeo.com/91641192 ). Solaroad has even an actual live implementation.

Can melt snow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135431)

But can it handle melting a heavy snowfall? I ain't talking about california weather here, I'm talking about Canadian weather. If it can't handle melting 30cm of snow that fell in 1 hour or so, it ain't worth it.

Re:Can melt snow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135473)

But can it handle melting a heavy snowfall? I ain't talking about california weather here, I'm talking about Canadian weather. If it can't handle melting 30cm of snow that fell in 1 hour or so, it ain't worth it.

I'm guessing you don't know much about California weather. Significant portions of the mountains here average over 70 inches snow depth during the Winter.

Re:Can melt snow... (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47135557)

Yeah, but you're talking about summer snow falls here. What about winter?

Test it parking lots first (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#47135449)

Test it parking lots first as some real year round traffic and weather will show where things like this will fail.

Re:Test it parking lots first (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#47135619)

Test it parking lots first as some real year round traffic and weather will show where things like this will fail.

That don't make no sense, because what you want is to have it in the actual use case scenario for testing. On a nice straight piece of road someplace, where people don't tailgate too much, ha ha. You need vehicles to be going over it at speed, and you need significant sections with on and off transitions etc so that you can perform a meaningful evaluation.

As slippery as oily, wet pavement is, I don't see how glass can't be a zillion times worse, no matter how you texture it.

Light pollution? (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 5 months ago | (#47135459)

How much are these going to add to the light pollution problem? Lights pointing straight up are not what we are looking for.

Re:Light pollution? (1)

Hydian (904114) | about 5 months ago | (#47135575)

Hmmm...Good point...but if they can make it smart enough to detect animals on the road and warn drivers, then they could design them to only light up the sections of roadway that are in use, which would presumably make them even more energy efficient. Side effects of this methodology would be that it would alert cross traffic that vehicles were coming and it could dovetail into smart intersections, autonomous cars and traffic flow, but that is jumping a few steps further ahead into that general direction than this product is currently positioned at.

Re:Light pollution? (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47135801)

Very little.

They will fail long before that.

It costs far more than ANY form of road (except maybe suspension bridges) and it is far harder to maintain WHILE it is far less durable.
And on top of that the quantity of electricity it produces is negligible.

нÐÐоÐÐ&# (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135471)

suck

plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135511)

Is that normal plastic?
How strong will the grip be in different weather?
How will it react to the occasional spill of fuel?

I'm not trying to destroy the project, I do not know how the various materials react and I'm just asking...

L

And Yet (1)

retech (1228598) | about 5 months ago | (#47135627)

The Feds won't fund a national MagLev.

One is feasible and lowers carbon footprint.

The other is too costly and uses enormous amounts plastics.

Cheaters (0)

IronForceCheats (3676741) | about 5 months ago | (#47135669)

Hey i'm testing and i thing that this good jobs !

A disaster waiting to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135719)

Ever seen one of those police chase videos, where the cops are chasing a car that's riding on it's rims? White-hot, throwing sparks, and literally tearing up the road?

Now imagine this happening on a rainy night, on a glass roadway that has a powerline built into it.

ZAP.

smart and stupid (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 5 months ago | (#47135751)

Infrastructure-wise, it's awfully hard for terrorists to blow up an entire road so that's nice. But, what the hell kind of solar panel can be driven over by multi-ton trucks for 50 years? And if they break down, aren't solar panels made of extremely toxic materials? Plus, it's hard to melt snow when when it falls faster than it will melt and cuts off your power absorption. Plus, the sunlight is the weakest and carries the least energy in winter. And when does it usually snow? When it's cloudy! What if it snows at night? There goes your power the next morning because it's all covered in snow. I doubt it can be salted or the salt powder would stay on the solar panels. Then there's the fact that dust and dirt make black roads not black in a hurry so there goes a percentage of your absorption. This is so stupid of an idea.

Success! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47135955)

What is the measure of success here? As many posters have pointed out, there are a lot of barriers and problems to be overcome before these will a reasonable asphalt/concrete replacement. This is something that may be twenty years off, requiring new technology and materials.

But think of the advancements and problems that can be solved just by attempting this! If, in five to ten years this results in a new surface for my driveway my kids can play basketball on, and a surface for my patio that powers my house I will consider this an outstanding success.

Do simple tests first (3, Insightful)

crow (16139) | about 5 months ago | (#47136071)

The should do the simple tests first.

They claim that the glass cover panels can hold up to traffic and provide sufficient traction. Why not mount just the glass covers over a stretch of road and see how it behaves? Until they get the covers right, the rest is irrelevant.

Once they have the ability to make a glass roadway, then they can deal with the question of what to put under it. How about just LEDs for traffic marking? Will they work in the day time? Will they put out too much light pollution?

Once they have the traffic markings working, they can get the heating elements needed for installing where it might snow. I'm under the impression that they have to melt the snow because the panels won't stand up to snow plows. Maybe it will make more sense to run pipes with heated antifreeze solution instead of direct electric heat. Maybe it will make more sense to redesign the glass covers to stand up to snow plows.

Once those are solved, putting in solar panels is a no-brainer that helps the economics of the project work.

In the end, once all the technical issues are solved, it's a matter of economics. What is the cost of a road made with the panels over 50 years as opposed to a traditional asphalt or concrete road when all the maintenance is factored in for each road type?

Considering all the above, I'm convinced that it makes much more sense to put solar on rooftops.

Covered roadways? (1)

crow (16139) | about 5 months ago | (#47136103)

One economic test would be to compare the price of installing the solar roadway with the cost of building a cover over the roadway with solar panels on it.

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