Clean and renewable energy is slowly (but surely) establishing itself in the United States. Having said that, a transition of this magnitude inevitably comes with its fair share of growing pains and blunders. One such mishap has occurred in the community of Sandpoint, Idaho where a solar road was installed that hasn’t come close to reaching expectations. More than $4 million was invested in the project that took 6.5 years to complete.
The first signs of this fiasco surfaced back in October, when the road was in its prototype stage. Not only did 25 out of the 30 solar panels malfunction within the first week, but 75 percent of the panels were already broken before even being installed due to a manufacturing failure. In addition to the panels that were broken on arrival, four more failed after they were rained on, which only left five properly functioning panels.
The prototype of the solar roadway was faced with several drainage issues, faulty manufacturing controls, and major design flaws that further attributed to its defunct state. Some engineers described the roadway as a “total and epic failure,” which would have had enough power to fuel a water fountain and restroom lights of a nearby structure if the operation was working properly.
Fast-forward to today, months after these initial flaws were identified. Despite the roadway being up and running, more disappointment followed as the solar-powered lane has only provided enough power to barely run one microwave. On average, the roadway has generated an average of .62 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per day since its power data began to be publically posted online in late March.
To put this in perspective, the average microwave or blow-drier uses about one kWh of electricity per day. The roadway’s daily average of .62 kWh does not reflect the volatile nature of its daily power intake. On March 29, for example, the roadway only generated .26 kWh, whereas on March 31, the roadway consumed 1.06 kWh, almost three times the amount as the previous day.
As discouraging as engineering mishaps of this nature can be, they shouldn’t discourage the energy sector or general public. Consider Sandpoint’s solar-powered roadway as a mere growing pain whose errors engineers and researchers can learn from moving forward.