Monday, July 25, 2016

A rational case for Solar Roadways projects in organizations

The first time I heard of Solar Roadways my response was "so they are putting solar panels flat on the ground and shaded by cars?" My interlocutor correctly interpreted that as "What a thoroughly stupid idea; no point wasting more time on it." *

There are, however, some good reasons to start a Solar Roadways project in some organizations. Really: good, rational reasons, that you can convince an engineer with. Well, some engineers.

Because of the buzz surrounding Solar Roadways, the project might be funded. And a project funded means a number of ways to fund other projects that would not be funded. For example:

1. An overhead charge is applied to all outside grants and funding. For example, an organization might add a fifty-percent surcharge to any expenditure: spend 1000 on your Solar Roadways funded project, contribute an additional 500 to a general fund (from which the projects that aren't sexy or buzz-worthy can be funded).

2. Fund as much personnel as you can get away with from the Solar Roadways money; of course, funding them doesn't mean that they can't work on other things, and in many organizations it's difficult to tell which project a worker is working on without expending a lot of effort. Given its own problems, it's unlikely that Solar Roadways project funders will be too eager to get a serious audit of expenditures.

3. Fund as much infrastructure, capital investment, and current expenses with Solar Roadways project money. Basically same argument as personnel.

4. Use the buzz of having a Solar Roadways project to attract attention and more funding, to get potential donors to come to fund-raisers, to impress upon the alumni (for universities) how "with it" your institution is. Also, you can play the "Solar Freaking Roadways" clip with the Serenity captain over and over again for the nerdiest of your audience, thus distracting them from any inconvenient engineering professor whose pet project isn't being funded.

Obviously these aren't arguments for Solar Roadways as an energy source, but rather examples of why smart and knowledgeable people go along with nonsense like that.

Great video by Crazy Aussie Dave Jones (EEVBlog) on Solar Roadways:

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* Some people start going over the details and quibble over the durability of the panels and the visibility of the lights in them or whether they could really melt snow (hint: no, they can't).

That's like arguing about whether the container cross-bracing ties in a Maersk Triple-E would hold if instead of sailing it over water we attached rocket motors to the hull and sent it to orbit and then deorbited it towards the destination port.

(Yes, get it to orbital speed then deorbit, to make it even stupider than a simple --- though also highly unrealistic --- ballistic trajectory.)

The cross-bracing isn't the problem, the concept itself is demented.