Inventor Pushes Solar Panels for Roads, Highways

Solar Roadways/APInventors Scott and Julie Brusaw stand for a photo on a prototype solar-panel parking area at their company's business in Sandpoint, Idaho.
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS

SPOKANE, Wash. -- 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 got $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 hydro power -- 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 were 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 slowly, 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.


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34 Comments

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Al Eng

When are we getting the money back from Solyndra?

September 21 2014 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danny

common sense people, lots of money wasted

July 13 2014 at 10:34 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Bruce

What an outstanding idea! Fix TWO problems with one solution: (1) the necessity to make huge quantities of petroleum-based tar, and generating additional power at the same time. Genius!

July 13 2014 at 9:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gnobie01

CAN'T WAIT TILL THEY INSTALL SOME NEAR M...GLASS IS SO SLIPPERY WHEN WET...I'LL BE RICH!!

July 13 2014 at 6:29 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gnobie01's comment
aspman07

Spoken like a lowlife ambulance chasing attorney.

July 13 2014 at 9:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Anthony

this is really brilliant concept, parking lotts too, as long as they can withstand the bruttal feezing winters,, I think less pot holes too, just think about all the jobbs lost in maintence, however only redirected to another field of maintence,followed by manufacturing and installs,maybee even the railroad could be intrested, in a concept.

July 13 2014 at 4:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jcecoman13

Yea hit those with a snow plow lol lol ...............

July 13 2014 at 7:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jcecoman13's comment
CMON9

They can heat up to melt the snow/ice. So all the money towns and cities pay for salt and trucks and gas would be saved. Still it's probably got a long way to go. I just thought that part would be cool, if even for my driveway.

July 13 2014 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
xanadutu

Hey DUNDERHEAD -- They Do NOT require a snow plow!!!!!! Don't know how to READ, do you!!!

July 14 2014 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mike775954

Why put solar panels on roads when there are so many other places to put them - where they won't have to take the beating or require the expensive upkeep? This is a nice publicity stunt, but it's an engineering nightmare. Solar power's biggest strengths are simplicity and low maintenance, and this scheme makes it complicated and multiplies the maintenance cost. My bet is that it will come and go when it proves not to be cost effective.

July 12 2014 at 10:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tcman924

Has anyone even thought about the dangers of driving on wet or ice covered glass roads?

July 12 2014 at 10:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

They won't have to build any more presidential libraries, they can just make E- books and leave the land for all those new manufacturing jobs they have been claiming are coming back.

July 12 2014 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

Nice photo, but the time has come to bring the jobs back to America and put the green in our wallets not in the hands of politicians selling out our jobs for campaign contributions!

July 12 2014 at 8:26 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply