Solar Frickin' Roadways are they the coolest idea ever? or Vaporware?

Continuing the discussion from Tiny anti-snorning gadget for sleep apnea:

Start here if you are unaware of this Kickstarter:

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I’ve been following this Kickstarter and the controversy it’s created about its feasibility.

I have worked on several “game changing” technologies and all the concerns I have read read like issues to be addressed, but I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that this is a poor idea, or one that will be too costly to ever see the light of day.

I am particularly excited about the idea of combining this tech with Google Cars for a roadway of the future that is safer and more efficient than what we have now.

The Solar Roadways official site with updates on their progress:

and their FAQs page:

One of the main issues I haven’t seen addressed is ongoing maintenance. They talk in their faq about what happens if an individual panel dies… But there’s no mention of all the OTHER infrastructure surrounding these things (which is mentioned in one of the two articles I linked earlier… the Jalopnik one I think?) - what happens when a part of that infrastructure dies?

I’d really like this to work, but that $56 trillion figure is a daunting one. :slight_smile:

Up here in the great white north we get lots of snow. And we use very large heavy snow plows.
And lots and lots of salt. I really do not see how this can work for our weather… (even the Google Cars can’t drive in snow, yet.)

And it’s not just the great white north… Much of the US has to deal with that issue too.

The theory is that they can use the solar power generated to melt the snow. But they still have to store excess power somewhere, as presumably they can’t store enough power inside each panel to handle melting 2 feet of snow that falls overnight.


Melting snow is not an issue when it’s only 0C or maybe -2C and as you say, if there’s less than two feet of it. But when its -20C not only does salt not work, but I doubt these would put out enough heat to melt.

That all said, this would be a great idea for southron places that don’t have to deal with winter.

I think that they can start with an area where weather is not so cold and then as they work through the general kinks get to a model that works in extended bad weather. Yes, there are lots of issues to be worked out, but they do not need to get them all worked out now. Let’s get a version 1.0: Parking lot in Hollywood model, then work our way to V 19.0 Highway in Finland model.


They tested a solar bike path in Holland. In six months, one panel shattered, and they called it a rousing success. They fudged their numbers to make it look like they generated an astounding amount more than they expected, when really it was more like a tenth of a kilowatthour per square meter extra.

I don’t like the sleazy marketing they do. It also cost $4million to just do 120 square meters of the stuff on a bicycle path, and a panel broke. Like shattered. Within six months. At that rate you’re going to be paying way more than what the power’s worth.

Here’s a guy on youtube who explains exactly how solar roadways are a waste of time. It’d be cheaper, more efficient and last a lot longer to just put a roof with PV-panels on top over the roads.

Basically you start out at about half the efficiency of conventional solar, then there’s tons of losses that mount up with stuff like road grime, the fact that you can’t tilt a road toward the sun, constant breakage, heat management issues.


Underpants Gnomes, everywhere.


Roofs would also keep snow off the roads, even if the panels weren’t working.

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See?! This is the kind of innovation we actually need!

But yes, roof mounted solar panels with built-in snow melting heaters are still like 80% efficient. Whereas solar roadways start out at best 50% the efficiency of roof-mounted (or really any amount of optimized positioning) solar, and go downhill from there.

Solar is barely worthwhile in the temperate zones. Why would half-efficiency solar be worth even the installation costs anywhere other than the tropics? It isn’t that’s where. If you want to build a surface tough enough for cars, then you’re not going to be harvesting nearly enough energy to pay off the installation costs, unless you decide as a nation that it’s worthwhile.

I’d rather have solar-fricken parks, or solar freakin buildings and causeways, since they’re actually manageable. There’s a reason they built streets out of stone and asphalt for thousands of years, and it’s not for the thermodynamic properties.

There’s a lot of discussion of several of these issues in their FAQs

This is what we, in the engineering industry, call a rousing success. One solar panel shattered in a test environment - that’s crazy good. And the costs of prototypes are always way more than for final products because they purchase parts one off and not in bulk.

His comparison is not really apples to apples - roofs are owned by property owners and roads are owned by the government. It’s way easier to pave large areas of road than it is to get similar amounts in a roof. But maybe roofing roadways is an option - but then there are other advantages like adjustable lighting in the roads.

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They claim to have addressed the grip problem by increasing surface friction, but surely that will lead to more tyre wear, which means more rubber deposited on the roadway surface. That’s going to impact the amount of light transmission.

It just seems like a solution that, while cool sounding, isn’t really that practical.

One panel breaking in 120m2 area on a bike path isn’t a very good result, that’s a tiny area and with presumably a lighter traffic load than a road with cars on it.

Heaters driven by grid? How is that remotely ecologically friendly? The amount of energy required to melt ice is significant. It’s more energy efficient to just move it with shovels. I did the math. One tank full of diesel on a snowplough uses half the energy required to melt 3 inches of snow along a one mile stretch of highway. That’s an abysmally inefficient way of removing snow. This is environmentally disastrous. Also, dust from being outside and grime from the roads are different animals. That does not address the use case scenario.

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I’ve been on so many betas and trust me, one panel breaking is AMAZING for really new tech. If it were more evolved, maybe that’d be less exciting, but for very new tech, it’s killer good.

If you want to be part of a really hairy Beta trial, by the way, try being part of one for police radios. Scary.

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Everybody keeps talking about roads, but the reality at least in the USA is that far more open and sunny territory is in parking lots. That sit empty all weekend most weekends, reflecting heat back up to the atmosphere. If they didn’t pave under where the cars park and only did the main traveled lanes, sun exposure would be maintained every day.

Another thing that could get it going more realistically is don’t pave ROADS, pave a strip on the shoulder. Cars could still drive over it when necessary. But generally, the panels won’t be taking the constant pounding of heavy vehicles. Maintenance would be easier since it’s not the main traveled lane and power for all the stuff they are talking about would still be available.

They are thinking out of the box with the idea, and I think they could still think further outside the box to make it reality.


Why not just turn Nevada into a giant solar farm?