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A Response to Critics of the Solar Roadways Concept

While there is an abundance of positive response to the Solar Roadways concept, there has also been an avalanche of negativity that completely misses the point. As reviewed in a recent Global Warming is Real article, the concept of embedding solar panels into American roadways represents a powerful new approach to green innovation and finance.

How many people thought the modern interstate highway was a fantasy back in the first days of the automobile? Are critics of the Solar Roadways concept too narrow-minded?Without paying heed to the benefits, many critics are focused on what they perceive as the project’s technological imperfections. Among their comments, they suggest the surface of a roadway with embedded solar panels would not be able to handle the stresses placed upon it, or that vehicular traffic and debris would seriously inhibit the ability of such roads to harvest the sun’s energy. Other criticisms state that the concept is hardly new and therefore somehow less worthy of interest. Some lament that we should be using roofs rather than roads to collect solar power.

Still others rue the cost. The creators of the Solar Roadway project have estimated the cost of embedding solar panels on American highways to be under $5 billion, while others claim it will cost trillions of dollars.

An engineer by the name of Roy Spencer is among those who dismiss the viability of Solar Roadways. It must be stated at the outset, while he claims to be a climatologist, he also seems to infer that “global warming is mostly natural.”  So it is important to note that as far as his credibility is concerned, he is a scientific outlier, aka, a climate denier.

In an article titled Solar Roadways Project: A Really Bad IdeaSpencer flatly dismisses the concept. He says, ” I don’t see how anyone with an engineering background could have seriously entertained the idea.” In the body of his article, he sites “numerous practical problems.”

Spencer regurgitates some of the criticisms cited above and he concludes by dismissing the Solar Roadways project as a “scam.” However, his commentary should be appreciated from the perspective of someone trying to promote his book on climate denial. In this book titled, The Great Global Warming Blunder, Spencer eloquently illustrates his confirmation bias by creatively spinning the evidence to suggest that 98 percent of scientists are wrong in their interpretation of the data. According to his assessments, global warming is not manmade. A contention which has been repeatedly debunked.

Artist rendition of Solar Roadways interstate.In an article titled, “Why the Solar Roadways Project on Indiegogo is Actually Really Silly” Joel Anderson said the project is “disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst,” he goes on to call it a “pipe dream.” While he claims to be interested in efforts to stop global warming, his comments sound more like the rants of a fossil fuel advocate. Perhaps he is just so mainstream that he is incapable of appreciating out-of-the-box thinking. He appears to be oblivious to the fact that several great innovations have been creatively developed and financed outside of the mainstream.

The next phase of development will require a better business model and more scientific and technical feasibility assessments. However, this innovative approach to concept development and creative method of financing represent a force that ultimately increase the energies being invested in green technologies.

Anderson’s scathing attack on the technology and the integrity of Solar Roadways is vapid. In his haste to pan the project, he has overlooked its merits. The Indiegogo crowd would never buy into the more conventional investment options, these investments do not detract from the mainstream, they are an entirely new investment channel.

Any nation serious about reducing its emissions is bound to find this concept attractive. This is certainly true in the U.S., where President Obama just announced that he will use his powers to pass new rules restricting emissions from power plants. This will drive investment in a plethora of clean energy projects.

While some of these criticisms may prove to be true, this does not detract from the utility of grassroots technological innovation and financing. Solar Roadways represents the type of innovative thinking and creative financing that may expedite the process by bypassing the normal channels of technological innovation and traditional financing.

The power of  crowdfunding is already reverberating around the world. There are a wide array of crowdfunding opportunities that are making a difference in the growth of green energy programs.  A number of platforms use crowdfunding to support green technology, renewable energy and social entrepreneurship.

While we should scrutinize the Solar Roadways concept, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. An in-depth scientific review of Solar Roadways may discover problems that make it unworkable at scale. However, that does not preclude the utility of grassroots innovation or creative finance.

Our failure to address the growing threat of climate change demands that we at least consider new technological innovations and new approaches to finance. Regardless of whether or not the Solar Roadway project ever gets built, it is emblematic of alternative efforts that become more important as we get ever closer to irreversible tipping points.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credits: Wikimedia, Sam Cornett (for Solar Roadways). Featured image courtesy Solar Roadways.

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Comments

  1. At $500 a panel installed, a very optimistic number. It would cost me about 1.5 million to do my modest driveway. While I am all for new technologies………….They must be practical. This path is a non start as it creates more problems than it even attempts to solve.
    P.T. Barnum was, is and will all ways be correct.

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