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Sandpoint Town Square Home To First Public Solar Roadways Panel Installation (newatlas.com) 163

Two years after the Idaho-based company Solar Roadways exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $1 million for constructing roads that gather solar power, the company has completed its first public installation in the City of Sandpoint, Idaho, where there are 30 tiles currently installed. New Atlas reports: The 150 sq ft (14 sq m) installation in Sandpoint's Jeff Jones Town Square is made up of 30 SR3 panels. Where Solar Roadways' second generation prototype was a 36-watt panel, the SR3 is the same size but is rated at 48 W, made possible by replacing the panel mounting holes with edge connectors. The new units each include four heating elements to help keep the installation free of snow and ice and over 300 brighter, daylight readable LEDs with over 16 million available colors. Though now laid down and switched on, not everything went exactly to plan with the installation. Manufacturing difficulties meant that some of the SR3 panels were not fully operational at the time of the public reveal. The working units were placed in the center of the grid and surrounded by dead panels. Solar Roadways aims to swap out the non-working units as soon as possible. Sandpoint officials plan to allow the public to interact with and modify the light show soon, and future plans for the town square include free public Wi-Fi and the roll out of electric vehicle charging stations. You can view the live stream of the Solar Roadways installation here.
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Sandpoint Town Square Home To First Public Solar Roadways Panel Installation

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  • Do the math... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbeckman ( 645148 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @04:27PM (#53006903)
    It doesn't work out: https://youtu.be/6-ZSXB3KDF0 [youtu.be] (EEVBlog video debunking the concept7)
    • by crow ( 16139 )

      At the end he shows a solar roadway in South Korea--they put traditional panels on posts above the road (actually a cycle track, but the concept is the same). I've long agreed with the point that panels above the road make far more sense than panels in the road.

      That said, I don't doubt that projects like these may develop some useful technology. Developing a viable glass roadway surface can probably have useful applications somewhere. The LED lights instead of paint is a neat concept.

      I'm happy to see som

      • It's solar freakin' obvious to anyone with half a brain.

        There is no use case where paving a road with glass tiles just so you can embed PV cells in them is anything like as safe, efficient, cheap as putting PV cells over or beside the road. Roads are expensive to maintain when paved with the hardiest of substances, and PV cells are fragile and inefficient when angled incorrectly.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Colas have some patents on this technology [google.com] that reveal some of how it works. Some additional detail here [wattwaybycolas.com] (pdf warning).

          They don't use glass panels or anything like that. They claim:

          Each panel contains 15-cm wide cells making up a very thin film of polycrystalline silicon that transforms solar energy into electricity. These extremely fragile photovoltaic cells are coated in a multilayer substrate composed of resins and polymers, translucent enough to allow sunlight to pass through, and resistant enough to withstand truck traffic. The composite âoesandwichâ is also designed to adapt to the pavementâ(TM)s natural thermal expansion. The surface that is in contact with vehicle tires is treated to ensure skid-resistance equivalent to conventional asphalt mixes.

          In this perfectly watertight layer cake, the electrical system is designed to ensure that the entire system does not short circuit if one cell is down. Electrical connections can be hooked up on the side of traffic lanes, in gutters or in ducts integrated in the panels themselves. Lastly, electronic circuit breakers ensure safety.

          They have clearly thought about this and patented a (supposedly) novel way of implementing it. Of course Solar Roadways have their own tech which I can't comment on, but the basic idea seems to be practical and Colas have a contract to roll it out on French autoroutes.

          • Here's the problem: if you just put these on top of polls along the same stretch of road, it would be cheaper and more efficient.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              I hear this a lot, but it's actually not very easy to just put stuff up around roads.

              There are safety issues with poles near roads, and with solar panels that could fall into the carriageway or be blow off in very strong wind. They create shade that can be an issue in some places, especially where foliage is used for noise reduction. And overall, the surface area is much lower, and you were going to surface the road anyway...

              • AmiJoJo, You keep saying solar paving is just a minor cost addition to normal road maintenance costs, but you never provide any actual numbers. The only demonstrated cost of a solar road is $3.7 million per 100 meters (Dutch SolaRoad), while the cost for building a freeway from scratch is only $3 million per mile.

                Provide proof for your pudding.
                • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

                  That was just a demonstration track, the actual production cost won't be $3.7m/100m. Actual prices are likely negotiated between the road owner and the supplier, but Colas say it is competitive. Keep in mind their system is just a layer on top of an existing road surface so you can't really compare directly anyway.

                  My more general point is based on experience. I work in the water industry, and digging up a road and resurfacing it later is extremely expensive. A 1m square hole for one day is about Â

                  • AmiJoJo: Your anecdotal math doesn't mean anything, because you're not comparing apples to apples. Colas cost claims are all meaningless unless they're backed with data: bills of materials, labor costs, maintenance expense, measured power output. Colas hasn't provided any of that, and despite your worrying about the 7000-euro post hole, the fact is that the known cost for a mile of freeway in the US is $3 million per mile, and the known cost for a real-world solar road is $3.7 million per 100 meters. Until
          • If Colas has "clerkly though about this", where is their cost data? Where are their test results? Where is their durability study? Colas looks to me like a giant tic getting ready to tap into a huge vein of socialist French tax money. To say that a company that builds roads has no conflict of interest in a publicly-funded unproven 1000-KM technology rollout is like saying Bill Clinton has no conflict of interest in Chinese-funded speaking gigs while Senator Clinton was negotiating with Beijing.
      • ones over the road would ACTUALLY help keep snow off the roads, and without wasting a huge amount of energy doing it.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It does work, the EEVBlog video just doesn't understand what they are doing. These guys are not the only ones doing it either. Colas, a massive infrastructure company in Europe, are doing their own version in France. [wattwaybycolas.com]

      The key thing he misunderstood is the economics of road building and surfacing. The material cost is actually a fairly small part of it. The really big gain is from having a modular road surface that can be easily replaced when damaged. For example, the Colas system is designed to lay on top of

      • by Kiuas ( 1084567 )

        The material cost is actually a fairly small part of it

        Are you seriously thinking that covering high-traffic road with glass-panes filled with electronics will keep the material costs small compared to a regular road?

        The per area cost of these things is insanely high and they haven't even been able to demonstrate that these things can survive a single semi rolling over them, let alone thousands per day, while at the same time retaining their optical clarity so that the energy creation rate does not drop ins

      • I don't know where you're getting your data, but "actual material cost" is hundreds of times more expensive than with conventional roads. The Dutch SolaRoad project reported a $3.7 million cost per 100 meters, without maintenance. The cost to build a highway is $3 million per mile in the urban U.S. (and half that in rural areas). Thus solar roadways are 200 times more costly than conventional roads. And solar roadways require the construction of a conventional road first, so it's pointless to compare thes
  • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @04:27PM (#53006905) Journal

    just how much snow and ice melting does it take to turn these into a net negative rather than positive generator of energy?

    • Did they build it in ID just b'cos they are ID based? Death Valley or AZ would have been better locations.
      • by rat7307 ( 218353 )
        Ice/Snow aside, solar cells actually output more energy at lower temperatures.
      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Did they build it in ID just b'cos they are ID based? Death Valley or AZ would have been better locations.

        If you were putting up a beta/demonstration site for your product, would you build it close to your workplace, or 700 miles away? Keeping in mind that anytime you want to check/tweak/repair/upgrade something, you're going to have to make the trip from the office to the demonstration site, and back.

    • by imidan ( 559239 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @04:51PM (#53007013)
      Even if they become energy consumers during snowfall, having a road that clears itself saves on fuel for plows and de-icing trucks, labor costs, chemical costs, potentially capital costs if fewer plows are needed, and probably other things I'm not thinking of. I mean, as long as the heating component actually works in practice and isn't wildly inefficient. Anyhow, even without snow cover, winter in the Pacific Northwest is not a great place to be trying to do solar, especially low to the ground where there is more likely to be more shade. In this environment, I'd consider any power generated by the road to be a nice bonus, and not the primary goal.
      • How many snow plows go on the sidewalk? Because that's where they've put them.....

        Check the photos. I can't wait to see it in winter because everything will be covered in snow except for a teeny tiny patch of ground that is clear (and likely wet and slippery) for no particular or useful reason.

        • by imidan ( 559239 )
          According to their reports, the traction on their surface exceeds ADA requirements for foot traffic, so I wouldn't expect this to be any slicker than other sidewalk. Of course, I hope they've planned for water runoff, because if the snow melts off of this little patch of tiles and the water runs onto adjacent sidewalk, it'll refreeze there and become a deathtrap.
      • A snowplow moves the snow off the road. De-icing with salt lowers the freezing point, putting the (now saline) water into a permanent liquid state despite freezing temperatures.

        Melting the snow with a heater turns it into fresh water, which will flow until it reaches a non-heated section of the road, then re-freeze into ice. So this is going to create patches of black ice on any sections of road where the heating element has broken, or turn the unpaved shoulders of the road into ice for anyone unfortun
        • by imidan ( 559239 )
          I mean, yes, if it never occurred to the creators of this project that water freezes. The system is supposed to be able to take water in and flow it somewhere else, through its subterranean cable vault. It needs to be proven, but it's not as obviously flawed as you suppose.
    • just how much snow and ice melting does it take to turn these into a net negative rather than positive generator of energy?

      My thoughts exactly. This installation has 30 tiles over 150 square feet, so five square feet per tile, with each tile generating 48 watts total under ideal conditions. Let's be nice and round it to 10 watts per square foot.

      Looking at a variety of heated driveway and heated roof systems it seems that most use somewhere between 30 and 60 watts per square foot to effectively combat snow and ice. That's 3-6 times the best-case power generation of these panels.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        They would be fed from the grid when ice/snow needs to be cleared. They aren't using just solar for power, they feed into the grid when possible and draw from it when needed.

        Like those solar powered signs and emergency telephones you see by the side of the road. Solar isn't their only source of power.

        • According to all the articles and press releases power generation is the primary purpose of these panels. They claim they'll have enough surplus to offset the energy usage of the entire town square. If they are consuming more power in an hour than they could generate in three, just to keep them able to generate power, that doesn't make a bit of sense.

          Now if they were hyping this as an interactive LED sidewalk that's heated to stay clear on its own in winter, and it also happens to generate some solar powe

      • by sbaker ( 47485 )

        The thing is that incident sunlight is ALREADY melting the snow - don't need no fancy solar panels for that. The only thing these gizmo's could do would be to "time-shift" the sunlight from the period before it started snowing...so the concern isn't so much the power they generate as the power they can store. Once the panel has snow on it, it's not getting much sunlight anyway.

        This whole concept is broken in so many ways - it's laughable.

    • by vadim_t ( 324782 )

      It's not going to be positive at all.

      There's a set amount of energy to work with. The only thing solar panels do there is that now there's a shiny surface so part will be reflected away (making things worse), part will go to heat immediately (but perhaps less efficiently than a well made traditional road, with heat going to internals that eventually transmits to the ground underneath rather than the surface), and part will be stored for later.

      Overall though, if a good black surface isn't melting the snow, a

    • just how much snow and ice melting does it take to turn these into a net negative rather than positive generator of energy?

      I'm thinking quite a bit a $1 Million for 150 Square feet to install... We don't have a clue what it will cost to MAINTAIN these things given the onslaught of heavy trucks pounding them into the pavement year round. Electronics of any sort don't take kindly to vibration and flexing and if you don't flex as a road way, you have to withstand orders of magnitude more force without breaking... Of course, that all assumes that the actual idea here is to melt the ice and snow.... Something tells me that's not wh

    • The likely "snow melt" benefit is not to fully melt all of the bulk snow, but only needs to melt the boundary layer between the road and the snow to allow for easier plowing clearance and deicing?
    • Regular cleaning of dirt, mud, leaves, and debris from solar roads by a paid employee(s) operating gas-powered street-sweeper/-washer trucks seems like a more regular and energy-intensive maintenance requirement for these roads than melting the occasional ice and snow. [Said from the perspective of my armchair, of course].

  • This is no roadway (Score:4, Informative)

    by klingens ( 147173 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @04:27PM (#53006911)

    This is a public place for pedestrians, bikes and market stalls.It's not even a road!

    Call me again when they put it in an actual road where a few hundred semi trucks driver over it per day, all of them with gravel in their tires.

    This is just a stupid publicity stunt.

    • This is a public place for pedestrians, bikes and market stalls.It's not even a road!

      Sidewalks get plenty of sunlight too. There isn't nearly as much of it but its still just sitting there dispersing available solar power. No need to automatically label a project a failure if the dev phase of R&D shows something other than the original plan is the best application...

      • Yea, sidewalks and other pedestrian areas seem to make a ton more sense. I mean, I can't tell you how many pedestrian areas around commercial buildings I've seen dug up to put in heater wires and then filled back in. One employee slipping and cracking their head on company property that hasn't been adequately cleared of ice can be pretty costly. If these can get cost comparable to those heater systems by just being able to lay over existing walkways, or even just require less tearing up of the current wa
        • Yea, sidewalks and other pedestrian areas seem to make a ton more sense. .

          NO!, None of those make any sense at all. We figured out a long time ago solar panels work better on top of things rather than under them. Preferably where they can be properly tilted and not obstructed.

    • Publicity stunt? Or smart roll-out strategy?

      Sure, putting them up against the worst-case scenario right out the gate would certainly help all the fart-sniffers who won't shut up about how much they think this project is DOA. But it wouldn't help anyone else.

      Start with the panels on a moderate-use road, see how they fare. If they fail in this use-case, we can pretty much write them off entirely. If they are marginally successful, we can step up to a tougher challenege.

      Or are you of the mindset that NAS

      • Jxander: I wouldn't complain if SolarRoads were only spending their own indigogo capital on this idea with little more than wishful thinking rather than actual data. But they are gorging themselves at the public trough, which means citizens are funding the Sandpoint boondoggle.

        Capitalism works well at filtering bad ideas, because a company that can't deliver can't persist. Ideas are proven in the marketplace. But once the bottomless well of government funding enters the mix, all parties are motivated to
  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @04:30PM (#53006919)

    150 Square Feet of roadway for a cool $1 Million and nearly half of them don't work yet? Sounds like a pretty expensive road to me.

    So, what exactly is the point of this little experiment anyway?

    • I dunno, when you consider the costs of some transit/road construction projects in the US these days, 150 square feet per million sounds downright cheap!
      • The going rate for freeway construction averages $3 million PER MILE. It's way, way cheaper than solar roadways. Way. Cheaper.
    • To prove a couple idiot's from Idaho with no engineering experience can't design roadways. At least that's my takeaway.

      • To prove a couple idiot's from Idaho with no engineering experience can't design roadways. At least that's my takeaway.

        If you're going to call people idiots, you should at least learn how an apostrophe is used.

    • 150 Square Feet of roadway for a cool $1 Million and nearly half of them don't work yet? Sounds like a pretty expensive road to me.

      So, what exactly is the point of this little experiment anyway?

      But this section of road can power a large hair dryer (when the sun is shining). So its really worth it.

    • So, what exactly is the point of this little experiment anyway?

      Well, it was mostly funded by slip-and-fall attorneys, so... /s

  • 2 years - and the most feasible thing they have is 150 sq ft? These look shiny. I'm guessing that means bad traction. They look thin. They are not letting cars or anything heavy on them. Won't the "heaters" take an impractical amount of power? If not, why not put heaters on *all* roads regardless of Solar Roadways. They don't think the complex wiring infrastructure (trenches) required in their initial description will be a problem for major, large-scale installation, but didn't do that here? I could go on a
    • by imidan ( 559239 )

      I mean, they have to start somewhere. A perfectly functioning solar roadway doesn't just spring into existence overnight. Obviously, it's hard to get too excited until they actually install this as a segment of a real road and demonstrate that it's cost-effective and functional. But surely a little proof of concept installation in an area with harsh winters is a good start to testing performance.

      I have no idea whether this concept is feasible at scale, but it seems like the best way to know is to work on

      • I have no idea whether this concept is feasible at scale, but it seems like the best way to know is to work on developing the concept. If we don't try, we'll never know.

        No, it's not feasible. The best way to know is to do math. You can work out exactly how much electrical power it takes to melt snow/ice per unit area, then multiply that by the total surface area of a freeway. It's a lot of power, way more than the panels themselves can generate.

        • It's a lot of power, way more than the panels themselves can generate.

          Particularly at night when the most snow/ice buildup occurs.

        • by imidan ( 559239 )
          I wouldn't say that feasibility in this case means that the solar road generates enough energy to be self-sustaining. That seems clearly impossible, particularly with low light and snow cover in the winter. But if heated road surfaces reduce other winter road maintenance needs, there's a tradeoff betweeen the cost of operating the heater and the traditional costs. Just because they consume power in the winter doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have any benefit.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bobbied ( 2522392 )

        Install these on a real roadway and I guarantee they will be gravel within a day. Steal plate that thin would get messed up by the onslaught of loaded trucks, these things don't stand a chance.

        They haven't a clue about what it really takes to make a durable road, much less what it's going to take to keep a solar panel working as you drive trucks over it at highway speeds... It's obvious from looking at their stuff, and I'm just a guy who got his Electrical Engineering degree and who's roommate was getting

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I think the skeptics are onto something, but I figure if a group of people want to spend money on ways to do it, let 'em try and see what happens.

        It's maybe too wishful thinking, but I like the idea.

        My biggest objection to solar roadways is to what end the power is generated. Maybe in a residential neighborhood it's practical to drop it into the grid, but there's a lot of roadways where it's too rural or would never be practical to feed it anywhere. But there's a ton of parking lots that sit empty 90% of

        • by imidan ( 559239 )

          I think the skeptics are onto something, but I figure if a group of people want to spend money on ways to do it, let 'em try and see what happens.

          I agree. If they try and fail, it hasn't been a huge financial blow. If they succeed, the results could be great. The risk/reward ratio of this project seems to make it a good thing to try. But we'll never get anywhere if we listen to all the people who say it can't be done.

          What I wonder, though, is what it might do for roads to essentially have a tough engine

      • There is no need to build a proof of concept when physics does not support the premise. The model has already been done on paper, building something that won't work just proves the builder lacks important knowledge or never consulted with any experts. That's what cracks me up about this: there is no engineering problem to solve, it simply will never work based on first-year thermodynamics. Unfortunately most of the people in the world are not engineers or scientists, so they don't have the knowledge to see

        • by imidan ( 559239 )
          When you say that it doesn't work based upon thermodynamics, I suppose what you mean is that it isn't self-sustaining--that the road tiles don't generate as much power as they consume. That isn't the claim, and I can't see how that could ever possibly be the goal.
      • “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” – Nikola Tesla

        Sometimes love can get in the way of seeing the infeasibility of an idea. It's actually commonly known that inventors falling in love with their inventions is the primary cause of failure to launch. If you add large amounts of money to
    • You cannot install heaters in roadways because roadways are conditionally cracking and warping. Their would be like hundreds of thousands of electric fires per year, and no way to fix anything without ripping up the entire road.

  • Just what we need, another great way to create light pollution.
  • This is really cool technology. I could see some places where simply the idea of reconfigurable LED lane markings could be a big win. Turning all the roadway asphalt into solar farms would be wonderful.

    I'm still quite skeptical that the panels will generate more power than they use for melting snow. These will probably never be practical in snowy climates.

    As to solar roadways, I still question how this will ever be more economical than building a steel framework above the roadway that is covered with sol

  • Being a somewhat sceptical individual, this really doesn't help my view on environmentalists in general. It seems that what governments and organizations tend to latch onto these bad ideas, applying magical thinking to fill in the gaps. I would much rather see well reasoned approaches to making our lives better. Any of those around (the more non-political the better)?
  • That's somewhere around the the average household power usage for a single residential utility customer amortized over about the space of several weeks. Note... *AVERAGE*. There are many times throughout the course of even a single day that the demand would exceed that by a no small margin, and without the storage technology to supplement it, it would not meet the needs of most residential households, let alone a location that is for public usage.
  • It wasn't enough for logic and a bunch of engineers and whatnot to put this idiocy to the ground, I guess they needed to make a public test that will obviously fail hard and never go beyond the prototype phase.

    I hope this finally leaves dumb politicians and a bunch of people with too money to spare before doing proper research with enough proof not to waste more money and time with this.

    People could literally contribute more by putting that money into LED lights for their homes or tested and tried real solu

  • Flashing LEDs that the public can program!?!? OOOOH! SCIENCY!!! /smashes face on desk/

  • Who wouldn't like lunch on the moon? Think about the prestige you'll get. My new business Lunar Roadways is paving a path to a moony restaurant that will, ahem, eclipse all earthy establishments. Yes, there are some technical details to work out. But if Marconi and Tesl... er Edison had listened to the Debbie Downers, we'd have no radio and we'd not have it in the dark.

    On this here napkin I've sketched out the key astronomical constants, solid fuel prices, launch pad costs per square foot, and my five-ye

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