When it comes to ideas that feel good but fail when stupid old reality sets in, having solar panels on a road has to rank at the top if only for the enormous amount of public support. In Amsterdam, a company called SolaRoad (smart name, right?) doubled down and installed a solar bike path and ran it for six months. Here’s how it fared.
For the newbies that don’t regularly give to or aren’t aware of snake oil cash grabs like Solar Roadways, let me fill you in. There’s an idea that installing a solar panel array as a drivable, maintainable road instead of regular asphalt would solve the nation’s energy problems, provide eons of free energy and allow us to work on things more suited to our enormous brains, like how the hell to get followers on Periscope without being a swimsuit model and what color two-piece bathing suit to wear on your modeling audition.
The initial project got crowdfunded to the tune of more than $2 million, without as much as a proof of concept in an actual road application. The scientific community ripped this apart with astonishing fervor, with our own typer-monkeys covering the point-by-point takedown.
Well, it turns out that you can’t fight warm feelings with cold facts, because boffins in Amsterdam in a company called SolaRoad have decided to give this worthwhile idea a go in the form of a 70 meter-long roadway that accommodates bikes as well as pedestrian traffic. And joy of joys, they’ve been running it for six months and have already generated an output of over 3000 kilowatt-hours, which is enough to power a home for an entire year!
To put that number in context, here’s a video from YouTuber Dave Jones on his channel EEVBLOG.
What do we find? Not only is the real-world output of the solar bike path about the same as expectations (~24.5 kWh per sq. meter, versus 25 kWh per sq. meter), but having solar cells in the same vicinity on a roof curved optimally towards the sun yields twice the power output without having it also double as a freaking road that can break, which it definitely does.
Also, as far as cost, SolaRoad received 3.5 million Euros from its investors to play with. Converted to Freedom Bucks, that’s about $3.82 million. The average price for a kWh in this country is 12 cents per. If we do some math regarding the annual ~6,000 kWh that SolaRoad will create, that’s ~$720 per year of energy savings.
If the company only used 10 percent, or $382,000 of its funding to make this pilot bike path, it would take them 530 years to break even. The future is now!
As far as what a working solar bike path would look like, here it is:
This is a bike path from Daejeon to Sejong, Korea made in the middle of a highway, unobstructed from the sun. Not only are the panels curved towards the angle of maximum efficiency, the path provides shade and protection from rain for the bikers.
There is zero danger of the biker falling or breaking the panels, and the entire structure will enjoy the long life cycle of a regular, run-of-the-mill roof solar panel because that’s exactly what it is.
Although I’m sure that solar roadways will rear its ugly head once more with funding that shafts taxpayers at the benefit of clueless architects who think that the laws of physics don’t apply to kickstarter projects, at least we’re at a point now where more of the public is aware of the rampant and unadulterated snake oil con-job bullshit it truly is.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.