In February, I wrote about a colleagues idea in a post titled “How to create a resilient infrastructure in 20 years for 1 trillion dollars, create millions of jobs, transition to green transportation, and do all of this at no cost to government.” That post is here.
A friend (thanks, George) recently sent a video to me (below) that describes another creative infrastructure idea:
“cover all concrete and asphalt surfaces that are exposed to the sun with solar road panels. This will lead to the end of our dependency on fossil fuels of any kind.
“We’re aware that this won’t happen overnight. We’ll need to start off small: driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, playgrounds, etc. This is where we’ll learn our lessons and perfect our system. Once the lessons have been learned and the bugs have all been resolved, we’ll plan to move out onto public roads.”
(You can read more details about the Solar Roadways project at this link: http://solarroadways.com/vision.shtml
I showed the video illustrating the solar roads project to some engineering friends. Here’s part of the resulting conversation:
Dr. R — That’s totally cool. I’d need to be convinced that you could manufacture this stuff as cheaply as asphalt and more importantly, that the total cost of ownership is lower. But how cool would it be to have this running up to your house? You’d get rid of all the lines that are there now and run it all thru this.
Dr. T — This is orders of magnitude better than [the idea posted in February]! But the bureaucracy and red tape cutting to do this is horrendous.
Dr. T — Question: If you charge power and telecom companies to use it, you could not only pay for it but make a return on investment. But does it work? Driving a million semis over circuits every week is much different than a lab test.
Dr. R — Yea, durability is the key. I won’t be convinced until someone funds a real test case that we can carefully observe for a few years with heavy traffic. Lots of trucks! Of course, you’ll have the occasional 15 year old hacker who finds a way to spell swear words in the LEDs but that would be cool too.
Dr. T — You can read your email while driving on it! Generally power engineers don’t believe in this idea because they understand the physics of long haul transmission and it isn’t friendly. But I think they [power engineers] have not considered an alternate architecture that incorporates storage. Flywheels, compressed air and batteries are not integrated into their models.
The glass highway project plus storage could change all that, but the grid would have to operate as a store-and-forward network rather than as a big electronic circuit. That is, we need about a decade of research that is orthogonal to current linear incremental thinking about the grid.
Here’s the 4:38 solar roadways video: