Will Solar Roadways Ever Be Possible?
In the United States, the primary mode of transport is cars ¡ª and when you have many people driving, you need a lot of road. In total, there are around four million miles of paved road in the United States. According to one estimate, that¡¯s more than 13,000 square miles of paved land.
These roads have a big impact on their local environment before, during and after construction. First, there¡¯s a carbon cost to laying asphalt. After construction, when it rains, the impervious surface of the road can carry polluted rainwater directly to storm drains ¡ª where the water will run off into the environment.
There¡¯s also evidence that expanding roads encourages people to drive more often, increasing emissions over time.
Without a major shift in the U.S., these roads are likely to stick around well into the future. As a result, environmentalists and engineers want to find ways to take advantage of all that open space and offset some of the environmental cost of roads.
Solar roadways ¡ª roads outfitted with special solar panels ¡ª have arisen as one possible solution to reduce the environmental impact of roads. If you outfit all these roads with solar energy, you can use that paved land to generate energy. At first glance, it looks like a good idea ¡ª but would it work in practice?
Why People Are Interested in Solar Roadways
While solar roadway technology has been theoretically possible for a while, interest in the idea has grown significantly over the past decade. This new interest is likely due in part to the growing availability of new solar technology like home solar systems and batteries.
Changes in road materials may have also made the idea seem more practical. In recent years, rising asphalt prices have many cities turning to concrete for their roads. Concrete is somewhat tougher and more durable than asphalt, meaning concrete roads may be a better candidate for projects like solar roadways, where damage to the road could loosen or destroy embedded solar panels.
Growing knowledge about the environmental impact of travel by car may have also inspired recent interest in solar road projects. After all, if we can find a way to make roads eco-friendly, we won¡¯t need to worry as much about their potential long-term effects on the climate and the environment.
The Challenges to Overcome
No one has attempted a large-scale solar roadway yet ¡ª but the first few experimental applications of the technology have not yielded encouraging results.
The Wattway solar road project, built in the Normandy region of France in 2016, lined a full kilometer (0.62 miles) of road with 2,800 photovoltaic solar panels. The project engineers designed panels coated with a special resin containing silicone. The company behind Wattway said the resin was strong enough to protect the panels from the weight of an eighteen-wheeler.
While sound in theory, the project was a disaster in practice. The resin was able to mostly protect the panels from traffic at first, but the sound created by cars passing over the panels was so loud that the village had to limit local speed limits to just over 40 miles per hour.
Three years after installation, there are solar panels peeling off the road and the protective resin is splintered and shattered in many places.
In terms of energy production, the project was also a bust. While solar panels are decent energy sources in well-lit regions of the world, Normandy only sees around 44 days of full sunlight every year. The region¡¯s strong weather, in addition to potentially damaging the panels, further limited the power the panels could collect.
On one hand, the Wattway project may seem like a failure of planning. The choice of region, road and materials were all suboptimal. The combination of these mistakes could easily have been enough to sink the project.
However, the Wattway project also shows the serious challenges that engineers will overcome to make solar roadways and other ¡°solar surfaces¡± workable. To start with, designers will need to use panel materials that are strong, resilient to traffic without generating too much noise and easy to maintain. Project planners will also have to select the right region for the roadway and find a road with the right angle towards the sun for maximum energy production.
What Will Future Solar Technology Look Like?
Growing demand for clean sources of energy will prompt engineers and designers to continue searching for new applications for solar panels. Solar roadways, however, seem likely to remain theoretical in the near future. The challenges of road-ready solar panels and the limited amount of suitable area will probably mean that solar engineers will look elsewhere before turning to projects like a solar panel highway.
Tagged Asphalt, Concrete, Environmental Cost of Roads, Road-ready Solar Panels, Roads, Solar Panel, Solar Panel Highway, Solar Roadway Technology, Solar Roadways, Wattway Solar Road, What are Solar Roadways
Factors to Consider Before Subscribing to Community Solar
By Salman Zafar | October 21, 2020 – 11:17 am |1 Comment
So you¡¯ve heard of community solar and are now thinking of subscribing to one. Naturally, you want to know if you are qualified for a solar farm subscription. In this article, we will discuss factors that you need to consider before you sign up for a community solar program.
What is Community Solar?
Community solar or shared solar is one of the biggest renewable energy trends to have emerged in the past decade. Compared to residential solar which is mostly individualistic, a community solar project allows several neighboring households to tap into a single solar farm installation.
Instead of installing panels on residential roofs or backyards, solar farm owners set them up at a central location like an open field or even an open body of water. Since it is subscription-based, you will simply receive a portion of the solar energy generated by these farms. Usually, this power will be coursed through your existing power lines, which means you don¡¯t have to get any new gear just to enjoy your subscription. Sounds promising, right?
Am I Qualified for a Subscription?
Just like traditional solar panels, though, community solar programs are not for everyone. Here are some factors that make you a great candidate for community solar:
1. Your utility provider has a solar project
A lot of local energy providers own or manage their own solar farms. This way, you can buy in and ¡®fund¡¯ the community project in exchange for rebates in your monthly energy bill. Supporting these utility-sponsored projects will allow you to reduce your own electricity costs while helping your provider reach their goals in terms of building a more balanced energy portfolio.
Check with your utility provider if they have such a project. If they do, then chances are you are automatically qualified to subscribe to it.
2. You live near a solar farm
Utility providers are not the only entities that can own and manage solar farms. Private companies, non-profit organizations, and even local government units can run shared solar projects that you can easily subscribe to.
Sometimes, members of the actual community come together to pitch in the capital for the solar farm, making it purely community-owned and for the benefit of the general public.
In any case, it is required that you live close enough to a solar farm for a viable subscription.
3. You can¡¯t put up solar panels at home
One of the most important considerations when choosing your solar-generating system of choice is feasibility. PV panels will require you to have ample space at home, not to mention the authority to make such installations on the roof (or even on the ground surrounding your house.)
More often than not, you will not be allowed to make modifications to a rented house, even if it¡¯s for something as beneficial as a solar panel system. In this case, subscribing to a community solar program would be your best bet.
Even if you live in your own house, though, solar panels may not always be suitable. Not all roofs can accommodate those installations. If your area gets more shade than sunlight, sourcing your solar energy from a shared solar garden might still be the most cost-efficient solution.
4. You move a lot
Flexibility is a prime benefit of having a community solar subscription, as opposed to investing in your own solar system at home. If the nature of your job or lifestyle is that it requires you to move a lot, it just won¡¯t be practical to invest in your own panels because of the sheer effort it would take you to uninstall, transport, and install them all over again with every move.
Going for a solar farm subscription will give you more flexibility when moving since it¡¯s typically easy to suspend or cancel your subscription to one and just subscribe to a different project that¡¯s nearer the place where you¡¯re moving. It¡¯s also a great way to maintain environmental sustainability with every move.
If any or all four of these factors are attendant in your case, then you already know that you possess the golden opportunity to try out a community solar program and see how it works out for you.