A recent article published by Phys Org debunked claims made by a viral video that celebrated solar roadways as the future of the world’s energy supply.
One of the first solar roadways ever built, the five-million-euro project in Tourouvre-au-Perche France barely produced half of the energy it was expected to. Instead of generating 800 kilowatts per hour, it only produced 409.
One reason solar roadways are ineffective is that in northern regions, sunlight doesn’t reach the earth at a perpendicular angle. The most effective solar panels are tilted to angles that optimize energy collection. Similarly, many roadways are partially shaded by trees and buildings throughout the day, drastically reducing the amount of energy they could collect with solar panels.
Another issue with solar roadways is the glass they require– because the pavement has to withstand the pressure from many tons of traffic, the glass has to be considerably thicker and denser. Thicker glass means less sunlight energy collection and less efficiency.
In the United States, similar projects yield similarly underwhelming results. The company called Solar Roadways developed a prototype that included LED lights for signaling traffic and heating pads to melt ice and snow. Unfortunately, even without these extra features draining energy, the roadways would not produce nearly as much energy as a true solar plant and would be much more expensive. As the Phys Org writer points out, putting solar panels on rooftops would be much more efficient.
And so, the dream of solar (freaking) roadways seems to have darkened slightly. However, as a recent article from CNBC points out, many states are still cranking out sustainable energy. Here’s the leaderboard of the ten states producing the most solar energy:
- North Carolina
- New Jersey
The efforts of these states are laudable and have led to millions of homes being powered by solar energy alone.
One study found that only .6% of U.S. land area would have to be covered by solar panels to power the entire nation. Even more impressively, only .0005% of the earth’s entire surface would have to be covered supply all human energy needs.
Unfortunately, as with solar roadways, such an undertaking is not so simple. Even if solar panels only took up a small fraction of the earth’s land, roads, buildings, power lines, and other items needed to maintain solar panels would take up considerably more space. Additionally, solar energy can only be collected during the day, but storing solar energy for nighttime use is tricky.
Although solar energy is a fickle resource, it is sustainable. With continued community efforts, like those of the states listed above, the future of solar power in the US looks bright.