Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Words: Bull And S***

Um, no. Just no.

Inventor pushes solar panels for roads, highways
The solar panels that Idaho inventor Scott Brusaw has built aren't meant for rooftops. They are meant for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails and, eventually, highways.

Brusaw, an electrical engineer, says the hexagon-shaped panels can withstand the wear and tear that comes from inclement weather and vehicles, big and small, to generate electricity.
I haven't seen his panels, but what I have seen, up close and personal, is the beating that a roadway takes from cars, trucks, and weather. Unless he has invented a solar panel that is stronger than concrete and will wear better than asphalt. Now, maybe he's invented a sophisticated electronic device that performs in a different manner than, well, every other sophisticated electronic device ever invented, and it keeps running despite environmental hazards and physical shock.

A few other things jump out at me. First, they've tested it on a small parking lot and claim that it holds up to wear and tear. Um, really? Did you drive an oversized, overweight truck over it? Subject it to three or four years of freeze/thaw/bake cycles? Send hundreds of thousands of vehicles speeding over it for month after month after month? No? You have a small, controlled area where you control what goes there and you think this can be extrapolated to a highway?

Remind me to steer clear of any project this guy has been involved in, would you?

The second thing was this:
The Brusaws have produced no estimates of how much the solar panels would cost, so the financial realities of their vision remain an unknown.

Oh, they know how much it costs, I'm certain of that. That they didn't release even a grossly unrealistically low price tells me that they know it's going to cost several orders of magnitude more than even the most sophisticated composite road material out there. Unless and until they have a comprehensive series of tests that at least partially approximate real-world usage, playing this "ask us how much it costs later" game isn't going to fly.

Lastly, I'm curious about this:
There are skeptics, who wonder about the durability of the panels, which are covered by knobby, tempered glass, and how they would perform in severe weather or when covered with dirt.
"Knobby, tempered glass"??? That doesn't sound like anything I want to be driving on. What's the coefficient of friction of this glass when it gets wet? How does it withstand freeze/thaw cycles? Glass doesn't hold heat in, which means that areas that get a lot of sun (i.e., the target areas) this new roadway is going to reflect heat like a sumbitch. No traction, radiating heat, and unknown wear and tear. Yeah. Sounds like a winner.

But he got the idea after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth" so you know there's no agenda here, right?

That is all.

Another dispatch from...
(image courtesy of Robb Allen)


Dave H said...

"Booming alternative energy industry." Riiight.

Whenever I see a story like this I think of The Simpsons' monorail episode.

Anonymous said...

ok,maybe not a great idea for a road,but maybe a parking lot?Damn,anyone that will do something good for the environment is your enemy?

Ruth said...

I love the concept of turning the mass of space taken up by roadways into solar arrays.

But I have the same mis-givings about it. Never mind that up here in the frozen north we spend large portions of the year with our roads covered in a constant mess of snow/slush/ice/water/salt/sand.....I'm betting we won't get much solar power from our roads during that time period, even if the panels WOULD hold up to that sort of abuse (which I doubt).

And OMG, spinning tires in a slushy parking lot because the lot is "paved" with "knobby glass"?? No thanks, its bad enough right now with the paving we've got!

Dave H said...

Okay, snark aside, there are some engineering problems with this approach. Parking lots don't just get covered with snow, they also get covered with cars. Current photovoltaic systems go to great lengths to avoid obstructing their view of the sun to be as efficient as possible. This proposal comes with built-in obstructions.

Right now the biggest problem facing PV systems isn't finding the space to install them, it's their poor efficiency. Brusaw is trying to solve the wrong problem.

Anonymous said...

I could see this with limited utility in sections of Arizona and other places that don't see

1) precipitation
2) high speeds
3) idiots

There are several issues like the lack of traction that glass affords (irrespective of knobs), additional heat given off (as it is reflective), and the inherent value of the construction materials (we've seen how many stories of people stealing wiring and in one case an entire railroad bridge).

The cost of solar cells have come down, but not to the extent that this would be a good idea except in very limited areas and as parking lots only. (Although stuff parked on them tends to decrease the amount of energy collected.

So, what is the projected ROI, 50-75 years?

Joseph in IL

Ed said...

So, the "inconvenient truth" is that this solution is "suboptimal", to put it kindly.

Ted said...

Fortunately none of your denier rantings will prevent this brilliant engineer from getting further funding and grants to optimize his design and do more development.

Did you not read the story ?

His panels are HEXAGONS!!!! What could be more Sciency than that

Geodkyt said...

A much more practical solution is the one where people propose running solar panels over the rows in large parking lots. That might actually work for large employers or places with scads of shoppers (like a mall), and you'd be generating the most power during the times when you would most need the extra power -- peak hour power for cooling in summer. Probably wouldn't even cover the AC power needs during the summer, but it could offset them. . . and it might cover the electricity needed for heating in winter (since facilities that size wouldn't be using resistance heating), depending on how large a proportion of the working day there is available sun.

But there are problems with THAT idea, too - such as routine maintenance, and having to very carefully model the reflection paths for all times of day and all seasons to ensure you don't either melt down a nearby building (it has happened from PV relfections) or blind all lanes of a major road.

Dave H said...

Geodykt: I like your idea, but I also like equipment that performs multiple duties. I'd want those solar arrays to be steerable and focusable so I could burn down approaching aircraft.

Geodkyt said...

Anonymous @ July 14, 2014 at 9:31 AM said:

ok,maybe not a great idea for a road,but maybe a parking lot?Damn,anyone that will do something good for the environment is your enemy?

Nope. It is a really dumb idea for a parking lot as well -- although it is less dangerous (the PV roads WILL kill people, lots of people) and not quite AS impractical (the PV roads generate power exactly where we do not actually need it and it is prohibitively expensive and inefficient to transfer it), it has one massive flaw, even if the PV cells were just as inexpensive as asphalt (which is, at heart, a waste product and primarily composed of recycled asphalt from roads that have been torn up for retopping), just as durable, etc.

You see, the period of time when the PV cells would be best able to gather sunlight (and recall, they will be at horribly inefficient angles to collect sunlight, because they have to be flat) is exactly the time when they will be most obscured by CARS.

Damned few cars parked outside teh Food Court at 2am. . . but even less sunlight.

Weer'd Beard said...

Now that he has his $2M the only question is will he A) Fruitlessly fritter it away on a project that governments and big corporations have given up on decades before or:

B) Looking at land in Antigua where they don't have extradition with the US.

He strikes me as a true believer who will probably do A, which makes B an even smarter move.

Stretch said...

Billion dollar Federal grant in 3,2,1.

Formynder said...

Even if his idea worked (with all of the objections noted above), all the things they want this magic road to do would far exceed any electricity the road surface would generate. Lighting the road, melting ice in the winter, heat sinks to draw off the heat, etc. And they keep adding more that they want it to do, like be dynamically lit so the lanes could change based on use. Eventually these roads would end up needing to be powered instead of generating power.

Irishdoh said...

So, what happens when there is a violent accident on this magical roadway? Also, would is stand up to the application of a snowplow?

Geodkyt said...

Plus, I don't care HOW knobby the glass is --

If the roads are aggressively enough texture to make them safe for straight line driving at no more than 35 MPG even, they will SHRED tires.

Glass is a really bad road material, just from wear, porosity (which gives small oil spills and water someplace to go so you don't hydroplane as easily), thermal characteristics (blacktop roads are actually pretty good at absorbing heat to speed ice melting, if light can get to a part of the road) factors.

Plus, the size of the individual hex plates means that they will RAPIDLY dig themselves out of alignment with each other (something long concrete slabs or nearly continuous blacktop doesn't have to deal with nearly as much).

And I see NO WAY it can be produced for anything economically feasible, even discounting the PV cells inside the glass, digging the cable runs for all the necessary cabling, laying the cabling, etc.

From an actual engineering standpoint (CE, ME, and EE, actually), the PV roads are DOA. PV paved parking lots aren't any better, either.