Solar Roads: What Happened & Will They Ever Come? | 2021’s Update

You are almost certainly familiar with the concept of a “solar road” if you have ever been interested in renewable energy in any capacity. The concept behind the concept is relatively straightforward. j

Solar panels are used in the construction of roads, which create a drivable surface. When the concept was first proposed a few years ago, it was dismissed as unsustainable and beyond our current technological capabilities.

Although this fad idea has been around for quite some time, recent conversations among eco-friendly businesses have reignited interest in it. Is the idea really more feasible now, given our most recent technological advancements? And, given all of the publicity surrounding them, why haven’t we seen more of them put into place around the world?

Continue reading to learn more about our analysis and future projections for the perennially popular “solar road” concept.

The Factors at Play

It is possible that solar roads are not being used in practice as a result of a variety of limiting factors. Numerous of them stem from concerns about the traditional function of a road.

The primary function of a road is to provide a flat, level surface…

    • Flat
    • Even
    • Stable
    • Good for traction
    • Durable
    • Unobstructed
    • Used for vehicles or people to travel on

The Benefits of Using Solar Panels

When it comes to a few road-related functions, solar panels do a good job of meeting expectations. At the end of the day, everything is a delicate balancing act.

They Are Flat

Because of their shape, solar panels are flat by design. This is advantageous for road construction because the surface must be level and free of obstructions.

Solar panels, on the other hand, require multiple layers of protection. People must do this if the panels are to be used on roadways because they are delicate in nature.

This frequently results in a noisy driving environment. This is due to the fact that the materials reverberate more than traditional mixtures of asphalt and concrete do.

They Are Even

When solar panels are properly aligned, they are normally very quiet. When solar panels are installed on rooftops, this isn’t as much of a consideration.

On roads, on the other hand, it is absolutely necessary. Joiners must be placed between the panels in order to ensure that they are as evenly spaced as possible. Unfortunately, this can lead to structural deterioration of the building.

The Challenges of Using Solar Panels

Solar panels, for the most part, fall short when it comes to functionality that goes beyond their traditional purpose of converting energy to electricity. If they are to be implemented on a highway, they will face even greater difficulties.

They Aren’t Stable

Solar panels are not the most stable systems in the world by their very nature. This is partly due to the complex electronic systems that are incorporated into their design. It is responsible for the actual conversion of solar energy into electricity.

When it comes to anything that has complex electronics built in, applying excessive force is generally not recommended. Because there is a high likelihood of things breaking or becoming dislodged, this is the case. Once one of the delicate components is damaged, the entire system is at risk of failing.

They Aren’t Durable

Solar panels require a transparent surface on which sunlight can pass through. Transparent materials are frequently not the most durable of all available options.

Bulletproof glass and polycarbonate sheets, for example, can be extremely strong. Other materials, on the other hand, continue to outperform them. When companies turn these transparent materials into ultra-durable products, they typically do so at a high financial cost.

They Don’t Have Good Traction

The use of irregularity is the most effective method for creating a surface that has good traction and grip. Roads are typically constructed of abrasive materials. Asphalt, gravel pieces, and other coarse textures are examples of surfaces that provide a surface on which wheels can easily grip and propel off.

Sunlight is essential for solar panels to produce energy and be cost-effective, so they must receive as much direct sunlight as possible. The refraction of light occurs when a transparent surface with a rough texture is exposed to light. The redirection of valuable sunlight away from the photovoltaic cells of solar panels means that they will be less effective and will produce significantly less energy.

They Can’t be Obstructed by Shadows

Roads are ultimately designed to accommodate vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Walking or driving down the road, it is very likely that people will be blocking sunlight from reaching any potential solar panels that may be located nearby.

The greater the number of cars and people on the road, the greater the number of shadows. The solar panels would be completely ineffective during rush-hour traffic, when thousands of cars would be blocking the road and blocking the sun.

Other foreign objects can also obstruct the solar panels’ surface, which can cause them to malfunction. Tires can scratch and dirty the transparent layer of the panels, which is made of polycarbonate.

Dust, leaves, stones, and other types of pollutants will find their way onto the roads and further obstruct the flow of light in the environment. The greater the speed at which cars are traveling, the more detrimental these effects are to solar panels. Even something as simple as a small stone becoming lodged within the tread of a tire can cause significant damage to the tire.

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Real Solar Roads

When viewed in isolation, the concept does not appear to be feasible. Regardless, several countries have carried out the plan despite the fact that it is unworkable. Unfortunately, they all ended up in the same place: a state of failure.

Wattway Solar Road (Normandy, France)

This solar road, which opened in 2016 and was hailed as a revolutionary development in the field of sustainable energy, exceeded all expectations. Several news outlets covered the road and its potential to generate clean energy while also offsetting the costs of construction.

The years that followed revealed a drastically different reality, and things began to deteriorate fairly quickly after that.

Because engineers failed to account for the effect of rotting leaves that had fallen on the road, it only produced half of the energy that officials had anticipated it would. Even in the absence of this inconvenience, the solar road encountered a number of other difficulties. As a result of the excessive noise generated by vehicles traveling at high speeds, the maximum speed limit on the road was reduced to a meager 70km/hr (43mph).

Even though it had only been two years since it was first constructed, the road eventually began to fail in 2018. They demolished a large section of the road in the middle of 2018 because it was deemed unsalvageable due to the extent of the damage. As of 2019, a greater portion of the road has begun to crumble.

With each passing year of operation, the Wattway Solar Road’s ability to generate electricity has decreased rapidly, and at the time of writing, the road is only capable of producing approximately 38,000 kilowatts of electricity. This is only a quarter of what they had anticipated it would produce (150,000 kilowatts). The Wattway Road was a painfully expensive mistake for the French government, as it required the expenditure of 5.2 million euros in tax money to construct.

The harsh reality is that the Wattway Solar Road was 360 times more expensive per square meter than standard asphalt and had no realistic chance of paying for itself through energy production. As the most well-known and revered solar road ever built, it served as a paradoxical demonstration to the world of the inefficiency of the entire solar road concept.

Solaroad (Krommenie, Netherlands)

The Solaroad in Krommenie, the Netherlands, was intended to be a path for cyclists when it first opened in 2014. The path also had the added benefit of being able to generate clean energy for the homes and businesses in the surrounding area. They built it to be 236 feet long for the sole purpose of determining whether or not such an arrangement could be implemented in the future.

Unfortunately, the Solaroad experienced problems that were similar to those experienced by the Wattway Road. Pieces of the pathway began to crumble in the first year of use, and the top layer of coating had to be replaced by the end of the second year of use.

When they assessed the pathway in 2015, it was producing a total of 9,600 kilowatts per year, which was enough to power three average-sized homes in the Netherlands.

Despite the fact that the pathway outperformed the Wattway Road in France, it was only able to generate half of the energy that conventional rooftop solar panel systems can generate in a similar location, according to the researchers. In spite of the fact that this does not appear to be a major expense, it was a significant one for the Netherlands, with a final bill of $3.7 million to show for it.

According to the uncomfortably accurate calculation, each kilowatt produced by the pathway is 173 times more expensive than the cost of an average kilowatt of electricity in the United Kingdom.

Jinan solar highway (China)

The People’s Republic of China has also attempted to build a functional solar road, consisting of a two-kilometer stretch of solar panels coated with “transparent concrete.” The project’s designers have made bold claims, claiming that the solar road will be able to produce a gigawatt of energy per year and provide enough energy to power up to 800 homes. The road goes a step further by having the capability of melting snow cover and providing power to the traffic lights above the roadway.

However, only five days after the solar highway’s official opening, it was discovered that portions of it were damaged beyond repair. At first, people assumed that the perpetrators were thieves or vandals who were attempting to steal pieces of the solar road, but they later discovered that this was not the case.

Automobiles driving over its surface have caused damage to the road, much like the Wattway Solar Road in France has been damaged by vehicles. As of yet, there have been no reports indicating how much real energy has been generated by the road project. In reality, it is unlikely that they will publicly announce that the road is performing below expectations.

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Solar Roads in 2020

In a time when innovation in the renewable resources sector is accelerating at breakneck speed, solar roads have become an unrealistic side project in the industry. After several failed attempts around the world, researchers have come to the conclusion that solar panels in their current form are unsuitable for use on roads.

Why We Won’t be Seeing Much Development

There Are Better Places to Put Solar Panels

Solar panels perform best when they are installed at an angle that allows them to receive the most sunlight possible. When solar panels are placed flat on the ground, they only receive adequate levels of sunlight during the middle of the day, according to the manufacturer.

During the winter months, when the sun moves southward, they will receive even less sunlight because people are unable to adjust their positions. Aside from vehicles and other obstructions to sunlight (such as trees, leaves, and dirt), other obstacles to sunlight are common on or above roads, reducing the efficiency of solar panels even further.

This idea of putting delicate, cutting-edge technology on surfaces that will be driven over is usually not supported, so it’s surprising that so many people were drawn to it by the prospect of doing so. In order to prevent serious damage to roads made of resilient materials such as concrete, asphalt and stone from occurring unnecessarily, expensive equipment should not be placed in such hazardous conditions without a valid reason.

Installing solar panels on the surface of a road would be less effective than covering the roofs of existing buildings, which would be much more cost-effective. High-rise structures do not require super-strong, expensive, and uneven surfaces because they are already there. We can also turn them so that they face the sun, which makes them significantly more efficient.

Putting solar panels on road surfaces might make sense in a world where we have exhausted all available space. However, in our modern cities, there is more available space on the upper floors than there is on the lower floors.

Solar Roads are Very Expensive

The cost of solar roads per square meter is orders of magnitude more expensive than the cost of conventional solar panels. To give you an idea of how expensive a traditional solar panel farm is per watt, the Wattway Solar Road in France is 8.5 times as expensive as a traditional solar panel farm. In comparison, a solar farm located in an open space adjacent to the road would be significantly less expensive while also producing significantly more energy at the same time.

When it comes to the monetary costs of these roads, one of the major concerns is that the solar panels must be able to generate enough energy to pay for themselves in energy production when compared to the cost of their initial installation and maintenance.

If it would take 50 years for a solar panel to pay for itself in electricity, and the solar panel has a lifespan of only 20 years, it is not economically feasible to install solar panels. As a result of crunching numbers and looking at the Solaroad in the Netherlands, which is still more efficient than the Wattway Road, we discover that the return on investment would take an absurd 1,545 years to recover its costs.

With so many different types of renewable energy systems currently available to us as humans, it seems counter-intuitive to be investing money in something as inefficient as solar road construction. Wind energy farms, traditional solar farms, and hydroelectric power stations all produce large amounts of clean energy at a low cost and pay for themselves relatively quickly, allowing them to be economically viable.

However appealing a renewable energy system may appear, it will not be practical until such a system is proven to be economically viable.

Plans to Implement Solar Roads in America

Although solar roads have failed in several other countries, some states in the United States have decided to move forward with plans to build solar roads.

Missouri has proposed plans to install solar panels on Route 66, which will be made possible by the use of Solar Roadways’ solar pavers. Another initiative by the Georgian government is the construction of a solar road alongside one of its highways, which has been dubbed “The Ray.”

These states have proceeded with their projects despite widespread opposition from government officials and taxpayers alike, despite heavy criticism. The allure of solar roads has proven to be too much for these decision-makers to resist, despite the fact that similar investments have proven to be fruitless in a number of other municipalities.

As important as it is to prioritize environmentally friendly initiatives for the benefit of society as a whole, some projects may not be the most logical solutions to our problems.

In their capacity as taxpaying citizens, the average American has a voice and the ability to influence the direction of government bodies toward more productive outcomes. Instead of pouring money into these projects, it would be better to use it to develop technologies that are more viable and have a better chance of making a difference in our society.

If you are currently a resident of one of these states, you have the right to speak out and participate in the discussion about these issues. Improved technologies that would be more productive and efficient additions to our public infrastructure are open to suggestions from you.

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Better solar technologies are on their way

Despite the fact that solar roads are a stretch of the imagination, there are still more promising alternatives on the horizon. Many different options have emerged as a result of technological advancements in the solar industry, which have the potential to influence our future.

Solar Windows

We will most likely see solar windows in the very near future, as they are a much more viable and exciting technology than what we currently have. It is anticipated that these new windows will be both less expensive and more efficient than solar roads in the near future.

Because of the placement of the windows, the built-in solar panels can receive an abundance of unobstructed light. Additionally, these solar windows can provide shade for buildings, allowing tenants to save money on their electricity bills.

Floating Solar Farms

Floating solar farms are a fantastic alternative to solar roads and are becoming increasingly popular. It is possible for solar farm installers to locate these solar farms along calm stretches of ocean or any other flat body of water.

It is possible that they could generate more electricity during peak season at a fraction of the cost of solar roads. The cooling effect of water also allows these floating solar farms to be up to 10% more efficient than solar farms on land, according to the International Energy Agency.

Solar Skins

Solar skin is a novel type of technology that has the potential to completely transform the solar energy industry. Solar skins are essentially a thin film of solar cells that can be applied to any surface with no additional hardware.

People can customize the skins by printing them in a variety of colors and patterns, allowing them to blend in seamlessly on roofs, walls, and even automobiles. Surfaces all over the city have the potential to generate energy invisibly.

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