Inventor pushes solar panels for roads, highways
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The solar panels that Idaho inventor Scott Brusaw has built aren’t meant for rooftops. They are meant for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails and, eventually, highways.
Brusaw, an electrical engineer, says the hexagon-shaped panels can withstand the wear and tear that comes from inclement weather and vehicles to generate electricity.
“We need to rebuild our infrastructure,” said Brusaw, the head of Solar Roadways, based in Sandpoint, Idaho.
While the idea may sound outlandish to some, it has already garnered $850,000 in seed money from the federal government, raised more than $2 million on a crowd-funding website and received celebrity praise.
Solar Roadways is part of a larger movement that seeks to integrate renewable energy technology — wind, geothermal and hydropower — seamlessly into society.
Brusaw said that in addition to producing energy, the solar panels can melt away snow and ice, and display warning messages or traffic lines with LED lights.
Skeptics wonder about the durability of the panels, which are covered by knobby, tempered glass, and how they would perform in severe weather or when covered with dirt. Another problem would be how to store the electricity that could be generated.
To demonstrate the concept, the company has created a small parking lot at its headquarters, using 108 solar panels. Vehicles have been driven onto the space, without damaging the panels, he said.
His wife Julie came up with the idea after watching “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global warming movie featuring former Vice President Al Gore, Brusaw said. She remembered that Scott had long talked about the concept of electric roads.
The Brusaws have produced no estimates of how much the solar panels would cost, so the financial realities of their vision are unknown.
The U.S. Federal Highway Administration gave the Brusaws $850,000 to develop Solar Roadways over the past few years and build the prototype parking lot.
This year, they turned to the Indiegogo crowd-funding site to raise additional money and move to the next phase. The campaign got off to a discouraging start, Brusaw said, but two factors helped: a viral YouTube video and celebrity mentions in social media.
The floodgates opened when actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame and the TV show “MythBusters” mentioned the company. The money will enable the company to hire staff and begin production of more panels.