Solar Freaking Roadways
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
A good buddy of mine and I have argued over the efficacy of solar roadways. For the uninitiated, solar roadways are roads built out of solar panels that transform sunlight into usable electrical energy. They wouldn't just act as solar panels we drive on, but would also have lights built into them that would allow them to change lane arrangements and generally be more visible during low light hours. The current iterations of the idea have, well, failed in a rather epic fashion, and to many this is proof positive that the idea is a losing one. If we just ran with that idea all the time, we'd never have left the planet. Fortunately, NASA wasn't about to just give up because their rockets kept exploding on them. They had a vision, a mandate, and the resources to make their visions a reality.
Fast forward to today, and we have solar roadway projects that haven't delivered for one reason or another (or perhaps a whole host of reasons). Should we just give up on the idea because it's failing now? That to me is a losing proposition. "Damn, I haven't managed to get a date in, like, two tries. I guess that means I'm an incel now. Time to stop trying." "Man, my bike fell over the first two times I tried to ride it. I guess I should just quit." "Man, we lost two Galleons to the Americas, time to pack this show up, and just sit here in Europe." You see my point? Part of any design or science project is that you have to adjust what you're doing to make it work. That's how the design process works. You find issues and problems, and then you go and find solutions to those problems. Sometimes that means completely re-designing your baby to the point that it's not the baby you envisioned.
And that's ok. The point is to progress in spite of all the apparent failures. Most good and great designs didn't happen that way the first time through, the vast majority had amazing failures in their prototypes that lead to the current working models. In my mind, solar roadways is much the same thing. Current prototypes suck. Ok, so what? The first rockets NASA built sucked. So did just about every other invention known to man. I can't think of anything off the top of my head that worked perfectly the first time through. If we used that as a metric for successful ideas, we'd still be using pointy sticks to gather food (actually, we'd have died off a long time ago).
So what is or are the possible solutions? On the specifics, I don't really know. Maybe it's using roads to generate energy by transforming the energy released as a car drives by, or turning the heat generated on the road by the sun into usable electricity. All of this seems kind of moot in some regards as battery technology is WAY behind generation technology. And as with anything "green," what are the net effects of producing said technology. Lithium ion batteries are amazing- but producing them is nature's nightmare, and there is no way to recycle them once they wear out (that I'm aware of- if there is, please comment on it below). That's a double whammy in it's own right.
Yet, what are we supposed to do? Revert to earlier forms of technology? Become hermits living in ultra efficient super boring and small homes to save mother earth? Curtail freedom and happiness via some Libria styled nightmare? Right now, that's where our tech is at- solar roadways that need work, windmills that kill birds, solar farms that can't store their energy, coal plants that produce CO2, and nuclear energy that has been demonized by years of fear mongering. The weak link is batteries, but as we develop those, we can be developing better roads that collect or transform energy for use elsewhere, or any number of other energy producing technologies. There are lots of ideas out there, and solar freaking roadways is one- even if the current iteration isn't what they become in the future. Simply put, we can't just quit an idea that shows potential because it failed the first couple times. Hell, the light bulb had how many iterations before it finally worked?
Our species hasn't succeeded because we quit when we hit a road block. Quite the opposite. We succeeded because we're too dumb to know when (or if) to quit. SO let's not quit on this idea. Maybe we need to reinvent this idea to make it work. I'm open to suggestions- but let's not just quit because it appears not to work. What are your thoughts? Comment below. Please consider sharing this content if you liked it.
Picture sources: Solar Cell Road and Solar Roadways concept art- Solar Roadways Indiegogo campaign.
Apollo 1 Crew- https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/space/mission-moon/article/Apollo-1-Death-of-3-astronauts-in-fire-on-launch-13739451.php