Business

Inventor pushes solar panels for roads, highways

Posted July 11

In this May 2014, photo provided by Solar Roadways, Scott and Julie Brusaw stand for a photo on a prototype solar-panel parking area at their company's business in Sandpoint, Idaho. Scott Brusaw's idea for solar-powered roads has gone viral and raised more than $1.4 million in crowdsourced funding. Brusaw is proposing to pave driveways, parking lots, bike trails and, eventually, highways with hexagon-shaped solar panels that will produce electricity and could even propel electric cars. (AP Photo/Solar Roadways)

— 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, big and small, to generate electricity.

"We need to rebuild our infrastructure," said Brusaw, the head of Solar Roadways, based in Sandpoint, Idaho, about 90 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington. His idea contains "something for everyone to like."

"Environmentalists like it," he said. "Climate change deniers like it because it creates jobs."

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 — including wind, geothermal and hydropower — seamlessly into society.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., described companies like Solar Roadways as "niche markets" in the booming alternative energy industry.

"They represent the type of creative innovation that addresses design and energy, while showcasing the diversity of solar applications," said Tom Kimbis, a vice president of the association.

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.

There are skeptics, who 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.

"It seems like something reasonable and something that is going to be very expensive," said Lamar Evans of the National Renewable Energy Association in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Another problem would be how to store the electricity that could be generated, Evans said.

The Brusaws have produced no estimates of how much the solar panels would cost, so the financial realities of their vision remain an unknown.

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.

"We'll start off small with driveways and walkways," 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 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. Launched on Earth Day, the campaign got off to a discouraging start, Brusaw said.

Donations trickled in, but two factors helped spread the company's vision: a viral YouTube video and celebrity mentions in social media. The video has more than 14 million views.

The floodgates opened when actor George Takei of "Star Trek" fame and the TV show "MythBusters" mentioned the company. They received donations from more than 45,000 people in 50 countries.

The money will enable the company to hire staff and begin production of more panels, Brusaw said.

"Once we've perfected everything, our ultimate goal will be highways," he said.

33 Comments

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  • Mon Account Jul 11, 2:41 p.m.

    Just add water and see if you can stop when brakes are applied. Also look at what big rigs do... View More

    — Posted by ohmygosh

    Technically, glass is stronger than concrete. This is a good start to a good idea. Minimally, it'd be excellent in parking lots and home driveways.

  • Reformed Liberal Jul 11, 12:08 p.m.

    Just add water and see if you can stop when brakes are applied. Also look at what big rigs do... View More

    — Posted by ohmygosh

    Possible to engineer those into the surface. Surficial coatings could add to the wet frictional... View More

    — Posted by johnrmccray

    Smacked by science. Don't do that to much here. They may start calling you a socialist or something like that.

  • mep Jul 11, 11:56 a.m.

    Good idea... too bad it was motivated by total rubbish science behind Gore's agenda.... but hey... if the Federal govt will hand me $800K, I'll come up with a plan for a fusion reactor that will be so cost prohibitive, it will never be built. And I'll have a "few" dollars left over for my troubles.

    Climate denier.... LOL.

  • rationality Jul 11, 11:34 a.m.

    Wonder what these will do on tire wear? All of these seams can't be good on tires. Goodyear & Firestone might promote the heck out of this company.

  • johnrmccray Jul 11, 11:34 a.m.

    Just add water and see if you can stop when brakes are applied. Also look at what big rigs do... View More

    — Posted by ohmygosh

    Possible to engineer those into the surface. Surficial coatings could add to the wet frictional coefficient, not to mention the added benefit of the seems between the panel being conduits to drain water during high rainfall events.

    As far as the durability under heavy dynamic loading, that was my first question as well. I do think that it would be possible to create something that will stand up to those types of forces.

  • Catmandu Jul 11, 11:30 a.m.

    Just add water and see if you can stop when brakes are applied. Also look at what big rigs do... View More

    — Posted by ohmygosh

    Roadways may be pushing the limits but parking areas and other spaces could be a viable option.... View More

    — Posted by AliceBToklas

    The problem with parking areas, is people park there, when the sun is out, and when they are not parked there, the sun is not out. I liked the flexible shingles for the home, and each home could have it's own storage area for night and cloudy days.

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 11, 11:12 a.m.

    Neat idea, but it will never work. Way too costly to build and maintain. A better idea would be to put solar panels in shingles, car roofs/hoods, etc.

  • BubbaDukeforPresident Jul 11, 11:03 a.m.

    So what happens on our highways currently? Cars shed rubber. Rubber blocks sun. Cars spill fluids. Corrosive fluids affect panels. Cars crash and catch on fire. Panels melt and scratch.

    How about solar sidewalks instead?

  • swordmistress Jul 11, 11:01 a.m.

    I love this idea and they are right...all the innovations we have and we still drive on an old-school classic. If they can get the energy storage problem down, I would be delighted to see this in trial-runs in some small communities. I really love the cold-weather features. So it may be expensive (really, what isn't nowadays?), but it would pay for itself in so many ways and then some!

    If you're doubting the structural integrity and water-surface tension tests, go to the website and look at all the tests they've run. It's pretty impressive.

  • AliceBToklas Jul 11, 10:53 a.m.

    Just add water and see if you can stop when brakes are applied. Also look at what big rigs do... View More

    — Posted by ohmygosh

    Roadways may be pushing the limits but parking areas and other spaces could be a viable option. It's good to see someone at least exploring this.

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