Solar Roads

Solar Roads Versus Objection Mars:

Long ago, when the sun had not set yet on the will of the West to progress, a poet was visiting my home. He read some of his poetry. Humanity had just reached the Moon. The poet loftily declared that we did not need the Moon, we needed to fight hunger.

Later, the malaria parasite mutated, becoming resistant to standard treatment. Now it kills more than 1.2 million people a year. A typical objection to colonizing the Solar System is this:

“as I see it – Scott’s movie (even if I’m a sci-fi fan and I love some movies of him as well: Blade Runner is definitely a masterpiece) is a mere conservative propaganda aiming for people to agree that these extremely expensive missions to Mars are more important than saving African children from ebola, helping Syrian refugees, letting Europe be democratic yet or supporting laws against free guns in the US … Save the “american” astronaut, guys!” The answer is crushing, it holds in one picture:

French Truck On Solar Photo-Voltaic Road: the Future Has Arrived

French Truck On Solar Photo-Voltaic Road: the Future Has Arrived

There is nothing “conservative” about missions to Mars. Quite the opposite: such missions are fully progressive. They force humanity to progress.

Disease in Africa has to do with lack of governance. Lack of hospital has to do with lack of governance. In the Ebola epidemic, the countries that were struck were struck from lack of organized health care.

Senegal got one, just one, imported Ebola case. The patient got cured, and that was it. Even Mali, with better governance, in spite of a Jihadist invasion, was able to contain a few imported cases. Meanwhile, several countries next door, which are intrinsically much richer (Sierra Leone, Guinea. Liberia) saw thousands of deaths, and containment came from the efforts of NGOs, France and the USA (mostly).

When France pulled out of Africa, some particularly smart critic told a senior French government minister that the argument of “freeing” Africa from alleged colonialism made no humanitarian sense: there was no “colonialism” to speak of, and who was going to pay for one hospital every 100 kilometers in the world’s second largest continent? The minister smiled, and said: “this is precisely the point, we will not incur that expense anymore.”

Two capabilities save children in general: a) good governance. b) science.

When considering a Mars mission in this connection, one has to answer if the Mars mission will improve governance and science. Governance itself is a science. A mission to Mars is “expensive”. How much? 100 million dollars? 200 millions? How much would a Mars colonization program cost to launch? Two trillion dollars?

According to the International Monetary Fund, subsidies for fossil fuels are more than 5.5 trillion dollars a year. Enough to set-up a village on Mars, with existing technology.

Now going to Mars would force drastic progress in, say, fuel cells. The technology of fuel cells was invented for the Moon mission. After Obama became president, the research funding on this field was yanked out (probably to send money to businessmen such as Elon Musk).

Mars colonization would force enormously innovative research in energy technology, for example fuel cells, and nuclear energy (both fission and fusion).

Nothing else will.

Syrian refugees? Mars will not save Syrians? Nothing is more removed from the truth. Mars, the god of war, is what is needed in Syria, fighting for Goodness, instead of having Mars fight in the name of the devil Assad, as was mostly done so far.

The 300,000 dead in Syria, the eleven million refugees, have been caused by the rule of a single, cornered man, Assad, son of Assad, and the clique surrounding him. To solve the Syrian refugees crisis, Assad’s rule ought to be terminated, so that he could be replaced by generals open to enough democracy to keep Syrians in Syria.

Unfortunately the Franco-American decapitation strike against Assad was called off by Obama, for reasons so far unexplained. So the massacre keeps on going, with forces under the orders of Assad killing at least ten times as much what the Islamist State kills.

Fossil fuels consumption, should it go on for a few more decades, will bring the global temperature up five degrees Celsius, and massacre the biosphere. It has to stop, but can be stopped only with plentiful, cheap, new energy sources.

That, or massive war (killing billions).

How? Science to the rescue. Without evoking the spectrum of nuclear energy (fission and fusion), Solar Photo-Voltaic (SPV) is here. Normal solar panels were developed for space missions. Without space colonization, they would not have been developed. Yet, solar panels are fragile. Or, more exactly, were fragile until now.

A giant French construction company (Bouygues) deposed patents to cover-up solar cells with various materials to make them tough. Glass can be made as hard as steel. Then Bouygues engineers drove more than a million vehicles above the toughened-up panels in a few test cities (Chambery, Grenoble). Now the first solar road is under construction. Four meters of said road can satisfy a house’s needs. 100 square meters (twenty meters of the linear road depicted) are enough to drive 100,000 kilometers with an electric vehicle. If 25% of French roads were covered, 100% of French electric needs would be covered.

The future, the good future, is here: it’s enough to let science roll. But science needs challenges. Such as Mars colonization. If (very serious) scientists and mathematicians need bananas, such as the Fields Medal and the Nobel Prize, certainly humanity needs bigger motivation, and bigger prizes than that!

You want morality? More morality? Then you need a bigger science. And the way to get a better science is by setting higher objectives, greater passions, more exacting thoughts. Progress, the Will to Progress, is a mood. It cannot be confined to moral progress, because the universe juggles with evil. Moral progress means technological progress.  Mars colonization is no moral objection. Objective Mars is a moral imperative.

Patrice Ayme’


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22 Responses to “Solar Roads”

  1. gmax Says:

    We need better science to fight suffering. Roll over Buddha, Christ… we need to get to Mars to better ourselves. What do you make of Nietzsche’s eternal return of the same? In this connection?

    A commenter on the site, last week, Zande, suggested that fighting suffering only caused even more suffering, what do you make of that too?

  2. EugenR Says:

    Because scientific progress is also about social and behavioral progress, it seems to me relevant to repeat what we commented in your previous essay on other day :

    EugenR Says:
    October 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm | Reply

    ……The WV golf is a good pinch. As to me I would forbid entirely the usage of private cars. Could you imagine what a EugenR Says:
    October 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    The WV golf is a good pinch. As to me I would forbid entirely the usage of private cars. Could you imagine what a wonderful cities could be without private cars. And if properly organized, the public transportation could be more comfortable than all these private cars stacked in the traffic jams.

    Patrice Ayme Says:
    October 10, 2015 at 7:45 pm | Reply

    Well, one has to change urbanism first. Easier in Europe. I live presently in a megalopolis of more than eight millions, complete with wild spaces where lions prowl, and, out of the core, cars are a necessity.
    Changing urbanism means building giant, positive energy towers, food producing, weather making, half a kilometer tall, to start with. It’s feasible, but not even attempted. It would require to divert energy from plutocracy towards the real world, and that’s anathema.

    My answer is

    • indravaruna Says:

      …but will be good for the jews?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Well, let’s see how the Brits do without cars. London is 3 times as sprawled as Paris, and cars are priced out of the center. The megalopolis in which I live has a gigantic bay full of ocean in the center, and is sprawled on as large a landscape as the non-desertic part of Israel, and people commute throughout it (public transportation or not).

      • EugenR Says:

        Yes world without privatec cars means not only change of transportation but also change in life concept. But anyway we are heading towards a dramatic change in life concept due to new technologies introduced on daily basis to our life in these days. If we neglect the plutocratic interests of car, fuel and othe industries, the real question we have to ask, will our life without cars in the cities be better or worse and will our life on earth evolve in the future for better or not. The answer for the second question seems to me obviously, in favor of without private cars. As to the first question the answer is not so obvious, since evenfor you a hardcore intellectual it is hard to imagine living in a world without privat car transportation. Yet this is exactly the question intellectual should challenge, meaning, “will our life without cars in the cities be better or worse?”

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    The solar PV roadway is a fabulous development. Any sense of when we might see them being introduced here in the USA?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Bouygues says it is targeting the USA. But then the problem becomes investment will. And also to figure out who will profit. Communities with lots of electric cars may be interested… Palo Alto has lots of trees… But it also has ludicrously wide avenues such as University Ave and El Camino Real… Also the whole things will have to be scaled up, so that immense factories can turn out acres of PV glass an hour. The product is so tough, it can just be laid on normal roadways, apparently.

  4. Go49oner Says:

    Solar Roads 🙂 Cool story Bro 🙂

  5. Patrice Ayme Says:

    I guess no more kilometer high tower in Saudi Arabia? (It is under construction along the Red Sea.)

    The superiority of the USA, not just its allies, rested on oil, cheap oil. Now oil is getting ever cheaper as new energy sources appear, and compete, while technology efficiency is making ever greater strides. And the trend will only accelerate: it’s a matter of saving the planet form fossil fuels.

    Both France and the USA are starting to make solar roads (the pavement is made of solar glass engineered to be sufficiently adherent). The French version makes enough electricity for a city of 5,000, in just one kilometer. Meanwhile the storage capacity per mass of Lithium-Ion batteries doubled in twenty years.

    As the sun sets over oil, political and economic power will change drastically.

  6. KhalidKSA Says:

    This project, the kilometer high tower, is privately owned and won’t be effected by governmental plans. The owner is the Kingdom Company.

    Excellent approach to world’s need for energy, but still not cost effective yet. Maybe in the next millennium, solar energy will be the only cheap and safe source. Countries with fast deserts and plenty of sunshine, like Saudi Arabia will once again be a major supplier of energy to the rest of the planet.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      In an unsubsidized world, Solar Photo Voltaic is CHEAPEST (in non high latitude areas). Already. So it has become a political problem.

      As far as transporting electricity from the deserts, the cost of transportation of energy is a problem. High temperature superconductivity is not here yet (supposing it’s feasible: differently from thermonuclear fusion, we don’t know that it exists!). Clearly, covering 25% of its roads with solar pavement, France can satisfy her energy needs. The only problem is how to store the energy (and dams, or artificial lagoons are the, existing, answer; more tricks are in the works).

  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to The Economist.]

    The astounding progress in Solar Photovoltaics condemn the heavily subsidized fossil fuels, short term. Solar PV is the cheapest energy at this point, once fossil fuels subsidies are removed. Solar roads are already here:

    • Rob S Says:

      Rob S in reply to Tyranosopher

      Solar energy is still a much more expensive source of electricity than fossil fuels, Tyranosopher. The biggest problem to be addressed is the intermittency. An expensive solar power plants sits their, useless, for (at best) 20 hours out of every day. Solar roads are not a solution to that problem, and add nothing to the challenge of powering moving vehicles.

  8. Rob S Says:

    Can you show the link where solar energy is cheaper than coal? This link to Wikipedia shows costs estimated to PRODUCE electricity by a German solar energy advocate…

    Coal: 0.04-.08 eu/KWH
    PV: 0.08-.16 eu

    The wholesale price for electricity in our area (a blend of coal, NG, nuclear and hydro) is 4 cents/KWH. PV cost is 2-4X that wholesale price.

    There are many, many ways to store energy. They are still too expensive, however. That is they have not gone to work yet.

    Checking the prices for our area, the early average wholesale price has been 2 ct/KWH.
    PV is 4-8X that number.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The IMF evaluated fossil fuel subsidies at more than 5.5 TRILLION dollars. That’s more than 10% WORLD GDP. The WHO evaluates deaths by fuel combustion pollution to be in excess of seven million a year.

      So the numbers you evoked are COOKED by an order of magnitude.I rest my case. Solar is, by far, cheapest.

      Dams, including elevated lagoons, can restitute 95% of the electric energy one tries to store in them.

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