The one thing that I can count on is that if someone, somewhere in the world writes on solar roads, I am going to hear about it in my email. I will confess that I have a soft spot for solar roads -- it is hard not to be entranced by the spectacle of such an incredibly stupid idea that is greeted by so much enthusiasm from nominally "pro-science" types. My best estimate is that there may be close to a million acres of flat commercial roof space in this country, real estate where solar panels could be free of disturbance and angled optimally for the most power output. So instead folks just seem to be giddy about putting solar panels on roads, there they cannot be angled and where they have to be hardened against driving and traffic.
Despite massive internet hype, the prototype of solar “road” can’t be driven on, hasn’t generated any electricity and 75 percent of the panels were broken before they were even installed.
Of the panels installed to make a “solar footpath,” 18 of the 30 were dead on arrival due to a manufacturing failure. Rain caused another four panels to fail, and only five panels were functioning shortly thereafter. The prototype appears to be plagued by drainage issues, poor manufacturing controls and fundamental design flaws.
Every single promise made about the prototype seems to have fallen flat and the project appears to be a “total and epic failure,” according to an electrical engineer.
If it had worked, the panels would have powered a single water fountain and the lights in a restroom, after more than $500,000 in installation costs provided by a grant from the state government. The U.S. Department of Transportation initially handed $750,000 in grants to fund the research into the scheme, then invested another pair of grants worth $850,000 into it. The plan, dubbed, “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” raised another $2.2 million dollars in crowd-funding, even though several scientists publicly debunked the idea.
Scientists repeatedlycriticized the scheme as panels on roads wouldn’t be tilted to follow the sun, which makes them incredibly inefficient, would often be covered by cars during periods when the sun is out and wouldn’t be capable of serving as a road for long.
Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways has received fawning coverage in The Huffington Post, Nature World News, Newsweek, Wired, Ecowatch and National Geographic. The program was supported by political leaders like Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo.
I don't know if the manufacturing failures here are related to the hardening of the panels that must occur for them to be used for roads, or if they are more typical of the boondoggles one gets when crony companies enrich themselves by selling cr*p on government contracts.
But good news! If you have extra money that you were just going to throw on the street because it was too much of a hassle to carry in your wallet, you can still give cash to Solar Freakin Roadways instead.