Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways? What are they exactly? Well, they’re a plan by the organisation Solar Roadways to replace all of the roads and footpaths in the United States (along with car parks and other concrete surfaces) with solar panels.
When I first read about them over a year ago, I was astonished that they had (at the time) raised nearly one million dollars on their Indiegogo page. Now it’s over two million dollars, even though this idea has been roundly condemned by professionals as unviable pseudoscience.
What is the purpose of a road? Well, the one absolute property that roads can’t compromise on is that they must provide support and traction for heavy vehicles in a range of conditions.
Before we get to the real meat of why Solar Roadways is just plain old crap, it’s important that we recognise that its creator, Scott Brusaw, seemed to feel the need to censor comments and ratings on his YouTube channel.
Silencing all criticism doesn’t strike me as the actions of a man who has a case to present for a groundbreaking innovative strategy.
Their first main claim is that the top layer is a tempered glass material that has been ‘tested to meet all load, impact, and traction requirements’. But the example given in the video is of a small tractor that’s driven a couple of metres, ONCE.
This test is utterly pointless, given that we want a road surface that multiple vehicles can drive on for years with no damage to the panels, the glass, or the electronics. I imagine if they showed a car doing an emergency stop on it or a big 18-wheeler driving over it for a few years, that tempered glass material would shatter quite easily.
Not to mention the expense of the glass itself. For the moment, forget all of the technology that goes into these hexagonal tiles. Chemist Phil Mason (known by his YouTube name ‘Thunderf00t’) who has been published in multiple reputable scientific papers, did the calculations and found that the cost of the glass would be $20 trillion dollars if all the roads in America were replaced.
He also made a hilarious satire of a mixture of the type of pseudo-science he usually debunks:
It’s been shown that rubber increases the friction between itself and the surface it’s moving on for the longer it’s been moving against the surface, therefore increasing the heat (Grosch 1963). Good luck dealing with heated glass on a hot day with a bunch of rubber-wheeled vehicles.
But back to the reason solar roadways is not possible: even if we could afford the expenses and somehow find a material that could make this possible, there is no way that the solar panels would get maximum efficiency while under the road with vehicles driving over them all day.
Something few – if any – debunkers of this nonsense have covered is the effect it will have on the night sky and nocturnal animals, which is why I decided it will be the focus of my next post.
Grosch, K. A. 1963, The Relation between the Friction and Visco-Elastic Properties of Rubber, The Royal Society, vol. 274, issue 1356, pp. 21-39