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Inventor pushes solar panels to resurface roads, highways

By Nicholas K. Geranios

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:34 a.m. HST, Jul 11, 2014

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 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.

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SteveToo wrote:
More tax dollars down the drain.
on July 10,2014 | 10:22PM
wondermn1 wrote:
Actually this is a great idea and 4 years ago we sent the videos and information to the Honolulu City Council and govenors office as the company wanted to use Maui as a test island to solar panel the roads and connect all houses through their driveways. Crosswalks and other warnings info are placed into the roadway vie LED's and excess electric is stored for rainy months. The glass is harder than pavement and has a 100 year life expectancy
on July 12,2014 | 03:07AM
sailfish1 wrote:
During the daytime the parking lots and streets and freeways are filled with cars which will be blocking the sunlight. The panels are also probably going to cost a lot more than the panels on a rooftop.
on July 10,2014 | 10:48PM
cojef wrote:
Reasonable post, plus depends on what or where the roadways are located. Extreme weather conditions, weight of vehicles and many other conditions have to be considered to overcome before it can be considered a viable option. EPA excesses in funding fly by night organizations have cost taxpayers mucho dinero.
on July 11,2014 | 07:08AM
HanabataDays wrote:
The problem with using this on a wide scale (highways) is that the electricity needs to be collected and hooked into the grid. That infrastructure's gonna be expensive too -- and way more so if they need to store some of the energy for nighttime peak use. But perhaps they, or something similar could be used as primary roofing material if it's not too heavy. Roof and solar all in one panel. Are these cells efficient enough for that? The article doesn't address efficiency or output.
on July 11,2014 | 01:40AM
TTPwr wrote:
The thing about research is that it isn't about what is possible or economical today, but what tomorrow will look like. Remember how much flat screen TVs used to cost? This idea may never amount to much, but don't forsake a small investment in an idea because it won't pay off immediately. Everything "tech" gets better and cheaper as time goes by.
on July 11,2014 | 04:21AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Well said. EVERY new technology or idea brings out the swarms of naysayers. Fortunately, the dissemination of these ideas can also spark innovation in the folks whose inclination is to think further about it and add to the conversation.
on July 11,2014 | 07:49AM
KaneoheSJ wrote:
Great story. Although it may not necessarily come to fruition on a grand scale in the near future, technology has been growing at an escalating rate. Solutions regarding power storage etc. may not come right away but it may come eventually. This kind of innovation to start the conversation is a good first step to finding real solutions to problems and may help to solve other problems such as pollution. Of course, as with other ventures, it will come with a great cost. And many might be turned off but the huge tax expenditures for such undertakings. Right now, it is still in its infancy but I do hope that it leads to other great innovations.
on July 11,2014 | 09:04AM
Hotel wrote:
The only efficient way to store electricity is reverse hydroelectric power. Excess power is used to pump water uphill where the water is stored. The water can then be released downhill to generate power. The new Panama Canal, and a canal in Germany use a form of hydro power to move water through locks by recycling the water up and down.
on July 11,2014 | 09:41AM
Jonas wrote:
I think this is a great idea, although much needs to be considered in practical application. I enjoy reading about visionaries.
on July 11,2014 | 11:01AM
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