Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1, 2013 Coastal Zone Management



Namazu, Giant Japanese Catfish, Former Demigod, Turned Analyst

 Quite some time ago the company that we are about to introduce you to started considering the idea of replacing asphalt and concrete road surfaces with solar panels that could be driven upon.
Finding a material that could protect delicate electronics like photo-voltaic cells from damage by being run over by automobiles was definitely going to be a challenge. Of course whatever they made those black boxes out of that airplanes carried their flight recorders in seemed to be able to withstand anything. But a solar road would have to pass sunlight to the underlying photo-voltaic cells and be cheap enough to spread across thousands of miles of roadstead and withstand the pressure of automotive traffic. Its no wonder that a practical solution has been a while emerging.
Of course you might ask why anyone would even want to find a practical solution to building a solar road way. 

 The reasons are simple. (1) The world needs roads, they take up a lot of space but we have to have them. (2) The world needs electrical energy and is willing to pay for it. (3) Solar electrical generating technology today is mostly based on the Photo-voltaic cell which also requires a lot of space to generate electricity in commercial quantities. (4) A solar road way that generates commercial quantities of electricity can pay for itself. That my biped, gas guzzling  electricity sucking friends is the game changer, a self financing road.

 The company that wants to provide you with this solution is called SOLAR ROADWAYS.  In 2009 Solar Roadways received a contract from the Federal Highway Administration to build the Solar Road Panel prototype. The panel was completed and the company found many ways to improve the basic road panel in the process of producing the first working prototype. The company is now working on a Solar Road panel parking lot project under a new contract from the FHA, using the improved panel design derived from the first working prototype. But Solar Roadways has a solar road plan that is global in concept.

The Solar Roadway would be a series of structurally engineered solar panels that are driven upon. Solar Roadways' ultimate goal is to replace all current petroleum -asphalt roads , parking lots and driveways with Solar Road Panels. These solar roadways would collect electricity and store it for transmittal to the utility grid. These panels, once production efficiencies are achieved, could also replace parking lot roofs, bike paths, race ways; any place that we now cover with asphalt and drive on. The panels are able to produce an electric light version of the center line and illuminate themselves at night. According to the Solar Roads company once the entire nation is wired into the ultimate solar road the Eastern half of the nation could power the Western half in the predawn hours for the Western Half , and the Western Half could power the Eastern Half in the early hours of darkness.  It all sounds great on paper and in fact is working well beyond the lab. To see videos and learn more click on this link.

Is this a potential game changer? Yes. Is it likely to actually change the game any time soon or ever change it in the way that Solar Roads envisions? Not likely. The reasons are complex.
First photo-voltaic cell electricity production is still more expensive per kilowatt hour than coal or gas powered generators and the United States is coming into an era of cheap natural gas as I described in my series NAMAZU FULLY LOADED THE FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES. In an era of terrorism, multiple threats of war , seismic activity and really busy hurricane seasons it relies on the electrical distribution grid and replaces point sources of electrical generation with a vast grid system of electrical generation. This is a highly vulnerable system in some ways and highly survivable in part simply due to its vast size. It has the advantage of size in terms of the electrical generation capacity is so wide spread that it would be impossible for an enemy to knock the entire system out at once. It also has the vulnerability of size and complexity. Portions of grids collapse, sometimes even the best of grids with all sorts of redundancy protection collapse in their entirety. You may recall that I have been advocating reducing reliance on grids in coastal zone planning since before Katrina and super storm Sandy. 

Replacing existing roads and parking lots with these panels while having the potential of creating self financing roads through the sale of electrical power still requires a lot of up front construction costs. We don't see where anyone has identified the minimum sized project where kilowatt hour sales will result in self financing. Could a large parking lot, approach road and top floor of a parking garage and roof of a building provide enough electricity to pay the higher green construction costs and provide a large office complex or shopping mall with free electricity?
All of this at a time when a major breakthrough in solar electrical power generation is somewhere on the cusp of coming into being. Some months ago we brought you the story of the Helios Ruehls company of Mandeville, Louisiana.  This company is trying to bring to market an entirely new idea in solar power. Their proposed system is more efficient than not only the Photo-voltaic cell but has the potential to produce kilowatt hours of electricity at less cost per kilowatt hour than the cheapest fossil fuel, something the photo-voltaic cell can do. (Yes the sun is free but the cells aren't, are not particularly long lived, etc., they make electricity from free solar fuel, they don't make free electricity).  

 Right now Solar Roads is out ahead of the development curve in front of Helios Ruehls in that they have produced a prototype and have obtained a second project contract from the Federal Highway Administration. However this is a long way from determining minimum salable project size and identifying a market. Solar Roads is benefiting from the Obama Administration's dedication to alternative energy sources which Republicans dislike because they can see the budget deficit and the looming oil boom in America. Republicans just don't see right now as a good time for R&D spending , really for any spending. Solar Roads in our opinion could find some developmental financing drying up in sequestration. The Helios Ruehls technology by contrast works quite well off grid. Grid dependency reduction is something that we strongly recommend in coastal zone planning and in seismically active areas. The Helios Ruehls technology's break even point on a unit is as small as a simple emergency generator for a single house. Larger units can power shopping malls, hospitals, or entire suburbs. Developing the Helios Ruehls technology to the point of routine sales of the smaller units requires only a fraction of the dollars it would take to build a solar road system big enough to sell power to the grid. On the other hand if the object is to produce a self sustaining approach road, drive way, parking garage and security lights Solar Roads may develop a market for cost efficient smaller projects. 

 At this stage we don't know enough about either company to make any predictions on who will prosper, fail, or simply survive. But we know this both technologies are viable. But the Solar Road to reach its largest vision would need a massive infrastructure project paid for by national governments. Quick name a government not struggling with debt or concerned that the debt of others will upset their apple cart? Solar Road needs to find its lowest common project size. The Helios Ruehls system just needs to find investors. We think the Helios Ruehls Fractal Lens/steam system is the real game changer and the Solar Road is a supplemental technology along an eventual road to solar energy driven economic engines. Though we favor the Helios Ruehls model 
for technological reasons , we believe both technologies are buy and keep TECHNOLOGIES but like every other investments you have to look at each company's financials and management carefully. One, five, or twenty years from now its possible that neither company will be around, but these technologies will be. They are past the sci fi and even drawing board stages.

Editor's Note:
 Speaking of sci fi we have to again thank actress Jeri RyanPhoto
for providing a link to the Solar Road site on her Google social media site . We spend a goodly portion of every day wading through the technical journals of our industry looking for developments that we should report to you. We visited her site one time and found two major technological developments that were not in our usual sources. These two technological developments were of such novelty and potential maritime or coastal zone application  that we felt compelled to discuss them. We found this stuff in one visit among the family pictures, puppies, Hollywood background chatter, what I did on my vacation , etc. . Jeri Ryan is presently in a starring role on the television series Body of Evidence. But apparently her past role as a cyborg keeps some Trekies and Techies checking in on her social media sites and some of the resulting postings are ahead of the technical journals.

  Unfortunately we still aren't big enough to give Namazu that cube farm of research assistants he keeps asking for. So we have to keep our noses to the conventional grindstone searching the trades. But if any of our readers are so inclined, we urge you to check in at Jeri Ryan's social media sites, or any of the other actors associated with Star Trek, science fiction sites, etc.. Look for new maritime related technological developments and send us a comment in the comment space at the bottom of the daily blog posts any time you discover an imaginative maritime related technological development that we seem unaware of. Lets see if we can give you an incentive to be one of our off the maritime information grid scouts.

You can wait for this guy to find everything for you or you can occasionally visit this lady to see if anything new is posted. Photo

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