In the category of clever ideas that are unlikely to be implemented on a wide scale, I like this one:


The idea of putting special solar panels on top of roads sounds appealing, but I can't imagine the panels being sturdy enough. And I can't imagine the costs being low enough. But evidently at least one engineer thinks those problems are solvable.

This got me thinking about doing something similar with houses. And by similar I mean impractical, costly, and unattractive. I call it a house saddle. The house saddle would be something you put over your roof like a saddle on a horse, and have embedded solar cells to produce electricity. The House saddle would have little feet on the shingle side, so it sits up a few inches. In effect, it shades your house. It could even have a radiant barrier built into its bottom side to further block the heat. Air would flow between the house and the saddle, but only from low to high. The side edges would be snug to the roof so the wind wouldn't lift the house saddle like a kite. The saddle would be weighted appropriately for your house type. You want it heavy enough to stay put in the wind, but light enough so it doesn't damage the roof.

If the solar electronics are embedded in the saddle, all you need to do is run an electric cable from the saddle to the point in your home where the power grid meets your home's wiring. An electrician could wire it in an hour. The installation would be relatively inexpensive.

I can imagine the house saddle having a built-in LED display, visible from the street, showing how much power it is putting into the grid, or how much money the homeowner is saving. When you put numbers to things, it influences behavior. The neighbors would choke a little harder every time they paid a power bill, knowing they were, in effect, buying their overprice electricity from the guy next door. Soon they would want their own house saddle. And the LED display would clue you when to hose off the system to boost efficiency.

A big saddle on a roof would be ugly, obviously. You'd want artists to be involved in the design, to make it as inoffensive as possible. Remember that solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels on roofs are also ugly, and you see plenty of them, so ugliness wouldn't entirely kill this idea. Perhaps we'd get used to these house saddles the same way we got used to wearing seat belts in cars. In time, a naked roof would look wrong.

Before you say, "We already have this. It's called photovoltaic panels," remember that I'm adding some elements to the mix:
  • - Easier to install.
  • - Airflow between shingles and saddle.
  • - Radiant barrier
  • - Saddle is intentionally large to shade as much roof as possible.
  • - Digital display to influence neighbors
  • - Artist design so it is less boring than standard solar cells.
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Sep 15, 2009
Greta article! Thanks! Speaking of music industry, there was a huge stink at the MTV Awards – probably because Kanye West has lost his mind. For a person that doesn't write all his own music, Kanye West seems to think that he has more talent than he does, which is why he thinks that he can interrupt the Video Music Awards to announce that Beyonce Knowles had a better video than Taylor Swift, while she was accepting an award. ("All the Single Ladies" is a few women dancing around in leotards – it's boring, but they gave her a token award anyway.) Kanye West is an egomaniacal cad, and many would give payday loans to keep him off the <a rev="vote for" title="MTV Awards News: Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beyonce" href="http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/09/14/mtv-awards-news-kanye-west-taylor-swift-beyonce/ ">MTV Awards</a> for life after his outburst.
Sep 8, 2009
Why not just incorporate solar panels into the shingles? The connectors would have to be incorporated in such a way that hooking the cells together shingle to shingle would happen automatically as the shingles were laid so it wouldn't be a pain in the ass for roofers.
Sep 4, 2009
1) It would have to be bolted down. Winds in many place would create a public safety hazard otherwise. That means something into the roof sheeting if not the trusses. That's a little less trivial installation than you believe.

2) If you already have the other solar technologies, won't this interfere?

3) The LED sign is a waste of power. :0)

4) If the saddle has a gap underneath for air, it can also get wet under there, but is less likely to dry quickly due to not being in direct sunlight. Not sure if this leads to something adverse, but it would need to be considered.

5) If you live in the world that isn't 'hot as hell' (ie where we actually get 4 seasons, not just spring, wildfire, more wildfire, and a bit like a cool spring....) then you'd find that the gap underneath is a great place for snow to congregate. This would possibly lead to effects like were seen in Ontario during the last ice storm - ice build up threatening roof trusses. Your cells would be stealing what direct sunlight there would be to melt the snow and ice, so it would be worse than just an exposed roof. Also, this might lead to corrosion of your saddle mounts and/or freezing of the cells which might result in them malfunctioning or at least operating at poor efficiencies.

6) Revisiting said world of 4 seasons, you would get a layer of snow and ice beneath the saddle (normal weight, but persistent to the point of maybe becoming a problem) AND a layer of snow forming on top of the thing quite likely (on roof surfaces that did not have a very sharp pitch). So you might reasonably DOUBLE the weight of snow and ice on your roof which is pretty darn bad if you live in a cold climate. And unlike a conventional shingle roof which you can just shovel off, this one wouldn't allow that. So you'd have to install heating wires or something in the saddle (probably both sides) to melt off snow and even that might not work. So your saddle would have to be demountable for winter. That adds to design complexity plus it is an annoyance (much like Christmas lights). That further reduces its apparent value to consumers.

Perhaps this would work in dry, hot, none-too-windy places. Assuming the ugliness doesn't trump the utility. One thing I find you often underrate is how much money people are willing to pay and/or just lose for aesthetics. If function ends up being unattractive, most people won't buy into it until the economics become *very* compelling. Look at what people buy in houses and cars and you can see that trend at work.

It's not a bad idea for Arizona, Nevada, or the like (assuming sand storms won't pit and destroy the solar panels). It might be okay in your neighborhood of Richtopiaville in California. But in the Northern States and Canada, it would be a non starter just for its poor winter dynamics. I think this has a limited geographic and climatic range of use and it is probably more restricted than you suspect.
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Sep 4, 2009
The house Saddel is actually one of your better ideas. I thought, yea, I could see that on my house.
The engineering would be a peice of cake.
Sep 3, 2009
Having the solar panels proximate to the shingles will cause the shingles to grow moss and deteriorate faster during the spring and fall. And then when it is time to replace the shingles the saddle has to come off first, then the shingles, then the saddle back on - every 15 or 20 years.
Sep 3, 2009
Where does this idea fit in if we all live in underground burrows as you suggested elsewhere? Do we have ground saddles then?
Sep 3, 2009
i want a striling engine on a dish for my roof, solves the same problem
Sep 3, 2009
The solar road sounds like a neat idea, but those guys are on some serious drugs.

On their number pages, they make it sound reasonable to manufacture, transport, and install "panels" (12 feet wide by 36 feet long) that are made of a thick, hitherto unknown virtually-impervious transparent material covering 432 square feet of light emitting diodes and solar cells. At a cost, no less, of $6912 per panel.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2009
The people who take consumer product ideas and make them look pretty (or even palatable) are generally not called artists. They are called Industrial Designers. They go to university, they study manufacturing processes, art, historical industrial !$%*!$%*!$% basic engineering and the like.
In almost all consumer products and many industrial products, the hand of the Industrial Designer is evident.

The Solar Road idea is one worth developing, but the surface should be a paste or coating that hardens, mixed with some anti-skid material, like the LiPoly battery composition. Parking lots, roofs, roads, etc. would all be sources of power. The coating need not be efficient in comparison to normal PV because of the sheer area of it.
Sep 3, 2009

Many/most houses already have this- it's called a roof with an attic.
Sep 3, 2009
$100K for the solar roads is almost insulting. That may be enough for them to re-design a better website, but not much more.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2009
@Scott: Nice bullet points!

@BigNoo: The plastic solar cells sound too good to be true. The article that you link is from 2005. Why have we never heard about it since?
Sep 2, 2009
As a retired architect, I must say your roof saddle is the best green suggestion I've seen in years!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2009
So basically make a carport for your house, but shaped like a saddle, then get artists to redesign the saddle so it looks less like a saddle. Maybe we end up with.............. a carport for a house.

Since the Carport provised protection from not just the sun but the weather, gabled roofs are out. Just build the house with a flat roof and then stick a carport over it.

Brilliance, sheer brilliance.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2009
The added bonus from covering roads and parking lots is that the trees are already cleared. My house has plenty of tree cover and is largely shaded. One of the many reasons I hate rebates for solar panels is that it would encourage many folks to cut trees.
Sep 2, 2009
At least you are thinking in the right direction about solar. Of course, any application to private rooftops, buildings or land has its pluses and minuses. On the other hand, there are !$%*! and !$%*! of freeway and highway easements and right of ways in this country that are unused. Maybe individuals, corporate or organize ions could sponsor solar panel arrays on this unused land. For example, Nike could sponsor a long ground-mount solar array along an appropriate and safe otherwise boring view site on a busy Interstate. It could arrange different color solar panel faces to display the Nike swish logo. It would be LED highlighted to show at night. Winners would be folks wanting more renewable energy produced, the driving public for something to look at while driving and Nike for advertising showing its community sprit and add to a already great environmental policies.
Sep 2, 2009
There's a much simpler partial solution, green roofs. Basically you put a layer of soil and plants on your roof. These absorb carbon, and give you your own personal nature park. They look amazing, give you a nice view from up top, and are cheaper, although they don't produce energy. All you need is a strong enough roof, a grid layer, dirt, and seeds.
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Sep 2, 2009
I think the road panels could hold up just fine but the only thing I would worry about would be traction. Doesn't sound safe at all.
Sep 2, 2009
plus you'd be able to take it to your next home, you could even have a house saddle on your rented roof if you had access to it, you would only have to make the investment once.
Sep 2, 2009
Scott - If you do one thing in the next 5 years, could it be to publish a book about your house building ideas. Your blog seems to be the only central repository actual useful, non-techno babble straight-talk on a) interesting ideas for houses (e.g. tree closet) and b) eco-friendly practices.

I would also take just a list with a link to each article that discusses the topic. I have the RSS, but this stuff is pure gold and I don't want to see it disappear.
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