Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when a Solar Road Panel gets damaged or destroyed (lightning strike, overturned vehicles, earthquake, etc.)? Couldn't the Solar Roadways short out and leave us all in the dark?
No. Each Solar Road Panel will have electrical connections with something similar to a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter - found in our homes to prevent us from being electrocuted if we drop a hair dryer in the bathtub). If too much current begins to flow (short circuit?), the electrical connection will be shut off, therefore isolating any damaged panels. On a larger scale - say a fuel truck explodes, completely severing the road in half - no one would lose power. All of the panels leading up to your home would still provide power. You may lose your cable TV or telephone (land line) until the road is repaired, but you'd still have power.
How much energy will be required to manufacture your Solar Road Panel? Won't this negate the environmental effect of your proposal?
That's a hard number to pin down at this point, but consider this: here in north Idaho, our power is supplied by hydroelectric dams. We're hoping to build the first Solar Road Panel manufacturing plant in Sandpoint, which has an outstanding rail system for distribution. Once the plant begins producing, the first Solar Road Panels to roll off the assembly line will be taken immediately out to the parking lot for installation. By the time the parking lot is finished, the plant will be off grid and energy self-sufficient. All subsequent manufacturing facility parking lots would be built out of pre-existing Solar Road Panels, making our carbon footprint as small as possible. Don't forget one of the main driving forces of the Solar Roadways: to drastically reduce/eliminate the carbon footprint of all businesses and individuals.
Won't traffic congestion or full parking lots make the Solar Roadways less efficient?
Any shade on a solar panel prevents it from producing at its maximum capacity. However, traffic or parked cars will have a negligible impact. For instance:
This picture is from Orange County, CA during work traffic. The upper six lanes are what we'd refer to as "bumper to bumper" traffic. Even with this congestion, you can see how much of the road surface is still exposed to sunlight.
This picture is Tyson's Corner in Virginia. Look at the parking lot, particularly the section on the curve. It appears that every parking space is filled on the curved section, but look at how much of the parking lot surface is still exposed to sunlight (not to mention all of the other road surfaces!). Get on Google Earth and zoom in to any road or area in any city. You'll find the same results.
Again, if we can produce three times more electricity than we've ever used, then only about a third of the Solar Road Panels need to be exposed to daylight. We have at least this much even in heavy traffic and full parking lots. Overall, I would imagine that traffic jams and full parking lots make up less than 1 percent of all surface areas. That's what we mean by their having a negligible impact on the Solar Roadway's overall efficiency.
Wouldn't it make more sense to just build canopies over the roads to hold the solar panels? Or just place solar panels on the north side of the roads, facing the sun? That way, we wouldn't have to be able to drive on them?
No. It would be incredibly expensive as you would still have to pay for our current road systems. We plan to use the money already budgeted for roads for the replacement Solar Roadways. If we still had to build current roads plus the canopies or side panels, the cost would likely be so high that taxes would have to be raised to cover it. You would also lose most of the features of the Solar Roadways, such as being lit by LEDs for safer night driving. The side panel idea would do nothing to keep the roads free of snow and ice, so northern cities would still have the removal expense and the accidents caused by the unsafe road conditions. Many of the other features would be lost too, such as saving the lives of millions of animals, a self-healing, decentralized power grid, all aspects of an intelligent road: reporting in with potential problems, reducing crime and terrorism, etc.
What are you going to do about traction? Cars slip and slide on wet asphalt, let alone wet glass. 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 the many technical specs for the top layer 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.
Scott attended a three day workshop called the International Workshop on Scientific Challenges for New Functionalities in Glass in Arlington, Virginia. He received quite an education in the properties and abilities of glass! Scott presented the Solar Roadways to an international audience of glass scientists. Afterward, he was invited to travel north and present the Solar Roadways project to Penn State University's Materials Research Institute. Scott had lunch with several of their research scientists after his presentation. By the end of the trip, Scott had been thoroughly convinced that the glass specs that he had presented would not pose any problems.
How are you going to keep the surface clean?
While at the International Workshop on Scientific Challenges for New Functionalities in Glass, Scott learned of a new technology: self-cleaning glass. From Wikipedia: Self-cleaning glass is a specific type of glass with a surface which keeps itself free of dirt and grime through natural processes. The glass cleans itself in two stages: the photocatalytic stage of the process breaks down the organic dirt on the glass using ultraviolet in sunlight (even on overcast days) and makes the glass hydrophilic (normally glass is hydrophobic). During the following hydrophilic state, rain washes away the dirt leaving almost no streaks, because hydrophilic glass spreads the water evenly over its surface.
It is yet to be seen if this process will be enough to keep the Solar Roadways operating under optimal performance (100% clean surfaces), but it will certainly put a dent in a potential problem. There will be some obvious obstacles such as oil spills, sandstorms, storm debris, etc. Here's the worst case scenario: if all else fails, we can replace snow plows with street sweepers (vehicles with large rotating brushes). They're used here in Idaho in the spring to clear the roads of the sand that was used for traction during the winter months. Again, this is worst case and only if the self-cleaning properties of the glass aren't enough to do the entire job.
How much power can you expect to get out of a one-mile stretch of road?
One mile = 5280 feet. Our Solar Road Panels are 12' by 12'. Therefore, it will take 5280/12 = 440 panels to create one mile (one lane, 12 feet wide). Each panel is expected to produce 7600Wh of electricity daily based on 15% efficiency and four hours of sunlight per day (for more details, see the Numbers page).
440 times 7600Wh = 3.344MWhr per lane per mile. So a typical four lane highway will produce 13.376MWhr per mile, based on four hours of sunlight per day.
According to a 2007 study by the Energy Information Administration, the average American home used 936kWh per month. Dividing this number by 30 will give us an average need of 31.2kWh per day. Dividing this number into the 13.376MWhr per mile, gives us approximately 428. That's how many American homes can go "off-grid" for every mile of 4-lane Solar Roadway. We can wean ourselves off coal. Again, that's based on four hours of sunlight per day.
What will an earthquake do to a Solar Roadway?
While we haven't had a chance to test it yet, we understand that an earthquake can be catastrophic for a road of any type.
Basically, any such force that could destroy an asphalt or concrete road would have a similar result with a Solar Roadway. Power will not be lost however: only the damaged panels near the fault line will stop producing.
As scientists get better at predicting earthquakes, the Solar Roadways could be used as a warning system and could help direct traffic away from an earthquake area.
Some of the roads in our neighborhood never see sunlight. Does that mean that we'll never see the Solar Roadways in our neighborhood?
No. We would install Solar Road Panels in tunnels and under bridges, knowing that they will never see sunlight themselves. Remember, we can produce three times more electricity than we have ever used. Theoretically, that means that only one-third of the Solar Road Panels ever have to see the light of day. They will still light up (nice for those tunnels!), melt snow and ice, report problems, etc., using the power that was collected by the panels in the region that did have access to sunlight.
Can you charge electric vehicles while they are driving?Our initial plan is to start off with parking lots, where electric vehicles (EVs) can plug in to recharge. We're also looking into mutual induction to charge EVs while they are driving down the Solar Roadway of the future.
What about using piezoelectric or thermocouple technology?With the vibration that roads experience, piezoelectric (the ability of some materials to produce a voltage due to applied mechanical strain) technology looks very attractive - especially since it could work at night when solar cells do not. We've been in contact with other companies attempting to use this technology in roads. Thermocouple (a junction between two different metals that produces a voltage related to a temperature difference) technology could also be used in conjuntion with our stormwater storage plans: the water stored beneath the frost line should remain below 60 degree F (similar to the temperature of a cave) and can be pumped via electric pumps to the surface of the road to cool the solar cells, making them more efficient. Thermocouples could be placed between the cold water conduit and the hot surface, creating a voltage during the cool down cycle. The reverse could be done in the winter months (50-60 degree water circulating past a near frozen surface). This technology also works at night. Both of these technologies are being considered for future enhancements.
These panels must be valuable. What's to keep people from stealing them for home use?
Each panel has its own microprocessor, which communicates wirelessly with the surrounding panels. They monitor each other for malfunctions or problems. Even if someone were able to pull a panel out of the road and load it on a truck, the stolen panel would continue communicating with all of the other panels in the road. The road would know exactly where it was and how fast it was moving, making the criminal a sitting duck for law enforcement.
People will surely try however, and we'll probably be treated to several "World's Dumbest Criminal" episodes before the thieves finally decide it's not worth it!
Won't this cost a lot more than asphalt?
From our Numbers page:
The Solar Roadway replaces our current aging power grid. The Solar Roadways carry power - not from a centralized point like a power station, but from the power-producing grid itself along with data signals (cable TV, telephone, high-speed internet, etc.) to every home and business connected to the grid via their driveways and parking lots. In essence, the Solar Roadways becomes a conduit for all power and data signals.
For an accurate cost comparison between current systems and the Solar Roadways system, you'd have to combine the costs of asphalt roads, power plants, and power and data delivery systems (power poles and relay stations) to be compatible with the Solar Roadway system, which provides all three.
In addition, there is no way to calculate additional savings such as the reduction in costs of vehicle and health insurance (due to lighted night roads, wildlife avoidance systems, snow/ice removal, etc.). Accidents and the loss of life (both human and wildlife) will be drastically reduced upon the Solar Roadway.
Then there is the whole environmental issue: elimination of the fossil fuel plants will take away about half of the CO2 emissions that are known to be contributing to the climate crisis. Providing a means to recharge all-electric cars anywhere along the roadside will open the door for the elimination of the internal combustion engines, which account for most of the other half of the CO2 emissions. With internal combustion engines now obsolete, our dependency on oil - foreign or domestic - will finally be over with.
Conclusion: for roughly the same cost of the current systems (roads and fossil fuel burning electricity generation plants), the Solar Roadways can be implemented. Unlike current road systems, it will pay for itself over time. No more Global Warming. No more power outages (roaming or otherwise). Safer driving conditions. Far less pollution. A new secure highway infrastructure that pays for itself. A decentralized, self-healing, secure power grid. No more dependency on foreign oil.
The real question may be: what will be the cost if we don't implement the Solar Roadways?
Is your company publicly traded? Are you looking for investors?
No, we're not publicly traded. Like the Blues Brothers, we honestly feel that we're "on a mission from God". We feel that He has entrusted us with an enormous responsibility to make His world a better place. We have (or can hire) the technical expertise to make the Solar Roadways a reality. We've received some government funding, but we're always open to a local angel investor who would like to become a part of this project and get his/her hands dirty. We're not interested in someone who's "in it for the money", but someone who sees the vision and, like us, wants to leave the world a better place than when we entered it.
What can I do to help?
You can help this project along in many ways. The news about Solar Roadways has been spreading by word of mouth, articles and blogs. You can tell people you know about us. You can follow us on Twitter and become our friends on Facebook and MySpace. When new articles are written on various sites, there are opportunities to blog and express your opinions. You can let your congressmen and representatives know that you would like to see Solar Roadways implemented quickly. See the following pages for additional information: Donations and Volunteers.
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