Among the most interesting conversations I had earlier this year during a visit to the headquarters of Daimler in Stuttgart was with one of its R&D managers, who told me, among other things, that a good part of transport in the future would be completely free.
That conversation came back to me after reading that there are plans for free transport by autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas to move visitors to some leisure facilities, with the transportation paid for those businesses; a model that is in turn funded through advertising or buying somebody’s attention and taking advantage of the fact that it is much cheaper since the most expensive part of the equation has been removed: the driver.
Driverless transport, besides being safer, is one important way to reduce the cost of transportation, as is the use of electric vehicles, both in terms of maintenance, and most importantly, their power supply. The logical conclusion of this approach would seem to be using solar panels as a road surface, an idea first tested in France a year ago, and that China has taken up enthusiastically, with the cost of panels falling to 20 ¢ / W, and a third layer to isolate them from humidity. These highways would also include infrastructure for wireless vehicle charging through induction systems, making it possible to generate and consume energy practically at the same point.
By definition, highways are large, long, flat surfaces. Converting them into electricity generation infrastructure using solar energy has been considered impossible by most engineers, due to the cost of solar panels. However, the impact of Swanson’s law, i.e. the drop in the cost of the panels based on the number of units produced, now makes this viable.
You can’t ignore Swanson’s Law
My good friend Tom Raftery has just published a provocative piece here on Medium called “What do we do in a world where…
The fact that China dominates the world production of solar panels and that it was able, between 2008 and 2013 to lower its production costs by more than 80% — boosting production in 2017 by 25% — indicates that the country’s authorities are willing to put those savings into value. Obviously, we need to study the impact of maintenance costs, but we could well be talking about resource hyper-abundance in the coming years: removing the driver and fuel from transportation costs, moving from A to B could be changed forever. Follow the yellow brick road…
(En español, aquí)