Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 10, 2010

End dependency on fossil fuels by driving on solar panels

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection — by Christopher Bellavita on August 10, 2010

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:

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 10, 2010 @ 4:32 am

The Future is NOW! Great idea!

Comment by Dan O'Connor

August 10, 2010 @ 8:29 am

Perhaps they should start with commuter vehicles in lieu of POV’s.

With more people now living in cities than not, that changes the need for commuting. The commuting requirement for suburbanites versus the real estate prices and finite space for homes is also something to weigh. Along with that, the concentration of populace creates additional risk. These variables affect the planning process. So too does revenue streams. Whose interest is it to move from oil? It’s a candid question. Our dependence is so intense and so ingrained culturally and that transfer from it is practically impossible.

It would also disturb and/or disrupt the fuel tax and create a need for an additional funding stream and/or incentives to move forward. The current fuel tax receipts are hypothecated to transportation projects (not sure if that’s actually happening) so that the fuel tax is considered by many a user fee. How does one anticipate replacing the revenue? Do you build the roads first or the cars?? Will also change the hydrocarbon economy, the one we and the rest of the world currently share. Could be a bit troublesome given the deep pockets of big oil and lobbyists.

Transition could be done over an extended and more robust telework program. If 53% of white-collar employees could telework 2 days a week, they could collectively save 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion a year. (http://www.teleworkexchange.com/gasaddiction/)

You would have to examine road usage data and where to start to be effective

Very exciting and part of our future. In terms of continuity, its repeatability, redundancy, and resilience would aid in its effectiveness and growth possibility. Much like re-tooling the auto industry, a course of action needs to be enacted and stepped out on. Endless pontification and hand wringing only exacerbate the problem and delay any movement towards effective change.

It’s pretty cool nonetheless.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2010 @ 2:22 am

Great comment DAN!

Comment by 66

August 11, 2010 @ 9:42 am

Sounds like a giant TCR setup.
Build it as a toy set first and scale it up. The kids can perfect it by breaking it in interesting ways.

Comment by Art Botterell

August 12, 2010 @ 2:09 am

I’m not qualified to evaluate the proposal per-se, but the way it turns the problem inside out has the aroma of genuine creativity.

Comment by 66

August 13, 2010 @ 9:05 am

Increase your carbon foot print. We can cap all the roads with carbon fiber. Then build lightweight super cars and trade in our obsolete cars. It’ll be expensive. The quality will be better and fiber is easy to recycle.

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