Mother Earth has been a pretty good little planet for us, and yet the kindness has not been returned. So, while we took from her and created an endless variety of inventions and whatnots, it was not reciprocated.† Well, and as females can get sometimes, Mother Earth decided she had her fill and would not be so giving anymore. How much more could she possibly give?! We pigged out on fossil fuels and will eventually not have enough.† So, a box of chocolates and flowers will not do. We need to figure out a way to amend our ways and reverse the damages. This predicament will mainly benefit us, since we would like to maintain our residence. Technology has played a leading role, both in damages and expanding our knowledge and insight.† Hard to say which weighs more, most likely the damage because it affects every person. It has been an inverse relationship, as our gadgets get smaller, our carbon footprint gets bigger.
Picture Idaho, 2006.† Not very exciting, favorite pastime is gardening potatoes. Maybe you just finished reading An Inconvenient Truth, started to worry if your potatoes would be green because of global warming. It is no wonder Scott and Julie Brusawís minds wandered off. And that was the beginning of solar roadways.† But their idea went beyond just solar panels and the renewable energy generated.††† They wanted to add microchips to control the LED lights, pressure sensitive sensors, a heating element to melt the snow, and maybe hide the unsightly wiring. The LEDs could be configured to a variety of formations, display messages on the road for drivers, maybe even expand to runways.† A vision of miles and miles of roads with more than just one purpose, assist in creating enough solar energy for the whole country and more. After all, roads and vehicles made a pretty nice footprint on their own.
Prior to actually placing solar panels on a surface that we would be able to drive over, there was rooftop solar panels, panels angled toward the sun. Back in the late 70ís it was exciting to create an alternate form of energy that wouldnít add more pollution.† Ironically, the manufacturing of solar panels created emissions and used many toxic chemicals like sodium hydroxide, hydrofluoric acid, and silicon tetrachloride, making solar energy not too green sounding. But this information wasnít realized until way after the 1970ís hippieís initial intent.
Now to 2015. Julie and Scottís solar roadways, their third prototype design was smaller and hexagonal, complete with LEDs and solar cells. They raised 2.2 million dollars through a crowd sourcing company, Indiegogo, and $750,000 from the USDOT to test out the panels. The first test in Sandpoint, Idaho in October this year resulted in a majority of the panels not working and the second test will be a Route 66 rest stop in Missouri.
It has been estimated at $56 trillion dollars to replace all the U.S.ís roadways with solar ones. †How many decades would it take to recoup the costs?† If potholes take forever to get repaired due to budgets, solar roadways may be quite a ways off. Outside of the U.S., the Netherlands spent $3.7 million on the SolaRoad project, a 70 m solar bike path. †The SolaRoad project has generated enough electricity for 3 households. France has a similar product, Wattways, a solar energy producing silicon layer placed on existing roads. If successful, France plans to cover 621 miles in the next 5 years. Germany, is the leader in solar energy with over 38,000 Megawatts, and has been using solar energy since 2006. Second place belongs to China, who generates over 28,000 Megawatts. And where is the U.S.? We land 5th on the list, generating only 0.65% or a smidge over 18,000 Megawatts. Little boot shaped Italy beats us out at 4th place.
But are solar roadways even ethical? Solar panels themselves are toxic waste dumps to produce. The photovoltaic cells used are silicon based which require large amount of energy, increasing the carbon footprint. And donít forget those chemicals used in production! Mass production would be disastrous; the emissions and waste would make it pointless, like drinking diet soda. Also think of the people who would be mining more coal to fuel the production or the manufacturing workers, subject to these toxic chemicals and possible long term effects on their health. Although, if those chemicals accidentally gave you mutant powers, Iíll be first to apply and hope it turns out to be something awesome like Magneto or Mystique. But I donít think that will happen, we would have heard rumors by now because of what happened in China in 2008. A panel manufacturing plant was caught dumping silicon tetrachloride in nearby fields. Without a huge chemistry lesson, silicon tetrachloride is bad stuff we donít want in our water or soil, especially water. It reacts with water and turns into hydrochloric acid. †But the reprocessing equipment cost is a pretty penny, so I guess you have to cut costs somewhere. Maybe not there. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is trying to establish sustainability standards to target any poor practices because gauging the damage from producing the panels vary from country to country due to their regulations. In the meantime, scientists at the University of Liverpool recently discovered cadmium telluride with magnesium chloride are cheaper and safer than silicon in production of photovoltaic cells. †And the combo actually is much more effective absorbing sunlight than silicon which only absorb 10% - 20%.†
Now out of the lab and onto the street. †A DOT civil engineer in Pittsburgh will be heading up a solar roadway project and is faced with some ethical concerns.† The National Society of Professional Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers each have their own code of ethics for him to consider and seems no matter what choice is made, he could be in violation either way. †He is faced with ensuring the publicís safety and/or the environment and getting the project underway but the strength and durability of the glass and cost to taxpayers are unsettling to him. How long will the glass surface withstand repetitive friction or be capable of absorbing the sun once dirt accumulates? Or get damaged by water seeping in between the panels?† The glass surface has brought up many safety concerns with only guesses for answers. Another issue in regard to public safety, is if the LED system were to be hacked, what unfortunate events would take place then?
So, for future generations, attainable solutions need to be found. †Solar Roadways future is there, but there are some serious issues to work out. †The main one is cost. Continuous testing of the panels with smaller projects, fine tuning the manufacturing process, and lowering cost will ensure this could be a viable possibility. Solar roadways at first appear to be the answer to so many problems, but bring up many more in itself.