Archive for the ‘Alternative Energy’ Category

An Interesting Idea for Alternative Energy

August, 20

For most of my adult life I have live in urban areas, and I have often sat on a stoop or leaned against against a building only to become mesmerized by the heat waves roiling off the pavement. While watching this dance of thermodynamics I have wondered how much energy was being stored and released by the asphalt that is ubiquitous in the urban jungles we have created. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one who wondered about this, because researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute have recently released a paper describing how payment might be a more cost effective way to collect solar energy.

Tapping the hot asphalt jungle for energy (link / archive)

However, as a realist one has to ask: “What’s the downside?”

Although I love the theory, I’m doubtful if it would work in practice. For example, asphalt roads are already high maintenance. It seems reasonable that road repair costs would have to increase significantly if every road crew had to handle the plumbing problems associated with miles and miles of pipes. Furthermore any area prone to potholes, or any road allowed to carry heavy trucking would force us to ask: “Are these roads as cost effective as ‘the proof of concept paper’ originally thought?” If they are not as cost effective as we had originally thought, then that probably eliminates not only 75% of U.S. roads but also about 75% of all roads across the world.

Obviously, additional research and testing needs to be done. Perhaps a five mile test track in Boston/Cambridge on Mass Ave. Boston/Cambridge are both northern cities so they are more often than not fraught with potholes. Additionally, Mass Ave is a major thoroughfare that allows buses and heavy trucks. I don’t know Worcester that well, otherwise I would have suggested a road in Worcester that happens to run right past the university that conducted the original study. 

This new study should track the cost of actual installation for the five mile test track and if it runs into Big Dig like cost overruns, then we know that it not feasible. This study should also track maintenance cost of the road and compare those costs to a similar stretch of road with similar patterns of traffic and use. Finally it should compare the test track to the over all cost/effectiveness of a traditional solar system. 

If the test track compares favorably – I’m thinking that the cost of the power is only 2-3 cents more per kilowatt hour than a traditional solar system – then it might be something that we ought to pursue. According to the CIA World Factbook the US has 4,165,110 km (includes 75,009 km of expressways) of paved roads. That’s a lot of surface area and surface area is what solar energy needs in order to successfully collect the power of the sun. Assuming that such a system can be made cost effective it would be silly for the US or any country for that matter to overlook the energy potential of their paved roads and parking lots.  

With additional studies I am optimistically realistic about the success of this idea.

Thursday, August 21st, 2008