University to build $110,000 solar road that will power just 40 personal computers for 8 hours/day

Money is certainly tight in the post-secondary system nowadays, which raises the question of why a Canadian university in the province of British Columbia is going to spend $110,000 in up-front costs to construct a solar road that will provide enough electricity to power only 40 personal computers.

As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

A decorative compass that students and others at Thompson Rivers University [TRU] walk over to enter the campus' Arts and Education Building will soon start generating solar energy as a "solar roadway." ...

[According to Michael Mehta, a geography and environmental studies professor at TRU,] "People will be able to walk on it, vehicles will be able to drive on it and it will -- in the same way as these other rooftops systems -- capture the energy from the sun and produce electricity to operate the Arts and Education building." ...

"It's expected to produce about 10,000 kilowatt-hours a year of power, which we estimate is the equivalent of running all the computer labs in the building, about 40 computers, for eight hours a day on an annual basis."

Mehta said he hopes the project will inspire others to make use of the technology, which is already being used in other places around the world. He said the Netherlands already has a 70-metre bicycle path made from solar panels, and France is planning to build long stretches of "solar roads".

The project's proposal states that "this array will produce on average 9700 kWh/year of electricity over its planned 25-30 year lifetime."

Well, this seems like a poor financial investment, even compared to other sources of renewable energy.  At a 25-year lifetime and at 9,700 kWh/year, the $110,000 up-front bill translates to a nominal electricity cost of more than $0.45 per kWh.

Keep in mind that this assumes that the rated solar road electricity production goal is indeed met and that any operating and maintenance costs are zero for the entire quarter-century project lifetime.  By comparison, the average price of electricity in British Columbia is $0.10 per kWh, and since the vast majority (92%) of it is generated by hydroelectric means, it is already renewable.

The media report also referred to the 70-meter bicycle path in the Netherlands as support for the solar road concept.  According to the available information on this project, it generated about 3,000 kWh of electricity during its first six months of operation.  The Dutch solar bicycle path cost $4.7 million, and if it generates just 6,000 kWh per year (i.e., twice what the initial six-month performance was) over a presumed 25-year lifetime, that will convert into an astonishingly high electricity cost of $31.33 per kWh – which is orders of magnitude above average electricity costs, including for renewables, in Europe.

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