Solar panel highways

Highways made of solar panels. The United States Department of Transportation has invested hundred thousand dollars in Solar Roadways, a company that promises to make the solar panel highways of the future.

Instead of asphalt, cars would ride on solar panels made of solar cells and glass, Solar Roadways proclaims. This company will invest the money it received from the U.S. government in building a prototype of a four-lane solar road. This road could provide up to five hundred homes with electricity.
“This eye-catching initiative is commendable,” says dr. Gerard Dijkema, a chemical engineer and associate professor in TPM’s energy and industry group. “It’s a fascinating idea. But it should be further developed to see if it can be successfully implemented. Unfortunately, Solar Roadways does not provide much information, so it’s unclear how much research they’ve done so far.”
Dijkema cautions that there are some tough nuts to crack in creating a solar road. “Solar panels are very slippery, which of course isn’t a good thing for a road. Solar Roadways proposes to use some ‘rough’ material on top of the panel, but I wonder, as an engineer, how they will ensure that the sunrays reach the active components of the solar panels, when there is a rough covering on the surface. Will this surface make the panels less efficient? I also wonder if it’s dangerous if a truck crashes on the road. Will there be a risk of being electrocuted? How many sunrays will reach the panels on busy roads? I think it would be wise if Solar Roadways would ask civil engineers for advice about how to install a road.”
But tough nuts should not scare away engineers, Dijkema emphasises: “This company is trying to implement affordable solar panels with advanced materials in an extreme situation. It could very well be that while trying to create them they will succeed in making better solar panels or make other useful discoveries – even if Solar Roadways ultimately fails to create a solar road. One may perceive TU Delft’s participation in the World Solar Challenge in the same light. People will not start driving in a Nuna because of this race. But in creating the Nuna, we learn more about how to build affordable, reliable vehicles powered by solar energy.”
This week more peculiar solar technology news hit the headlines, when Google announced that it is developing solar mirrors for solar thermal plants that are up to four times cheaper than those currently used. Dijkema: “Solar mirrors are used to direct the sunlight to a medium, like lithium for example, that can be heated up to high temperatures. This heat is converted to power using a conventional steam cycle. Google creates a new kind of heliostats – the individual mirrors that must follow the sun. It’s a good idea for Google to create new, more efficient and cheaper heliostats.”

Meer bacheloropleidingen moeten Engelstalig worden. Studentenraden van de Idea League-universiteiten waren het hierover eens tijdens de Idealistic-conferentie. Ze zien graag veranderingen in het Engelstalige onderwijs. Idea League is een samenwerkingsverband tussen vijf Europese technische universiteiten. Deze staan in Londen, Zürich, Aken, Parijs en Delft. Veel studenten zijn geïnteresseerd in studeren in het buitenland, maar de drempels zijn vaak nog te hoog. Nu moeten uitwisselingsstudenten de moedertaal van een universiteit leren. De meeste masteropleidingen zijn in het Engels, maar Engelstalige bacheloropleidingen maken de uitwisseling aantrekkelijker. De bacheloropleidingen moeten ook in de moedertaal beschikbaar blijven, omdat studenten de vaktermen in eigen taal moeten kennen voor hun latere loopbaan. De uitwisseling van studenten tussen de Europese universiteiten komt nog niet echt van de grond. De studentenraden denken dat dit met de naamsbekendheid van Idea league heeft te maken.

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