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Couple Driven to Solar Innovation

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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A couple from Idaho has big plans for solar.

They hope to transform paved surfaces in the U.S. with smart, tough solar panels in order to curb the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.

Scott and Julie Brusaw invented the technology in 2006 and have been working to perfect it ever since. After two rounds of federal funding and successful testing, they recently launched a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo to try to raise $1 million.

Their invention, Solar Roadways, uses a system of interlocking tempered glass hexagonal panels embedded with photovoltaic panels that have been tested for impact, load and traction.

Solar Roadways

Scott and Julie Brusaw used their second grant from FHWA to build a Solar Roadways prototype behind their office. The couple has launched a fundraising campaign to take the project further.

The Indiegogo campaign started on Earth Day (April 22) and ends May 31. As of Tuesday (May 27), they had reached their goal, raising $1,388,510.

Harnessing Energy

In 2009, the Brusaws received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration through its Small Business Innovation Research program to build their first prototype.

FHWA awarded them a second SBIR contract in 2011 for $750,000. The Brusaws used that money to build and test the panels in a parking lot behind their office.

According to the Brusaws, the parking-lot prototype "exceeded all expectations," and they have also developed new shapes in order to easily pave curves and hills.

The panels are designed to last a minimum of 20 years but are limited by the solar cells, which reach the end of their life cycle by 30 years.

A YouTube video explains more about the Solar Roadways program.

Scott Brusaw, a former Marine, says the load rating for the panels is nearly double the weight of the Army's M1A2 Abrams tank, which weighs about 68 tons.

The roadways themselves will not only generate electricity, but could eventually include a roadside cable conduit that could be leased to utility companies, cable TV companies, or high-speed Internet providers.

Each of the panels features programmable LEDs and heating elements to ward off ice and snow.

The prototype was designed so that an excess energy is placed back into the grid during the day and can be drawn back out at night.

Each panel can communicate wirelessly with surrounding panels to communicate any issues, and the Brusaws say a damaged panel can be replaced and reprogrammed within a matter of minutes.

'Truly Visionary'

The innovation could soon be tested on a real city street in Sandpoint, ID, according to Public Works Director Kody Van Dyk. He said the department would seek a grant from FHWA to convert a sidewalk and driving surface to Solar Roadways technology.

Solar Roadways; Graphic design by Sam Cornett

This is how an artist expects the Solar Roadways to look in Sandpoint, ID, where the Public Works Department is seeking FHWA funding to pilot the project downtown.

"The city and Solar Roadways have been in contact for a long time, and we're very, very interested in doing a project with them," Van Dyk told BonnerCountyDailyBee.com.

The technology has been featured in several documentaries and has received endorsement from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID).

"It is truly visionary to anticipate how our existing transportation corridors can meet tomorrow's energy needs," Crapo said.

"This is exactly the kind of over-the-horizon thinking that has brought idaho's own Solar Roadways to national and world prominence. We can all benefit from this public private partnership, which will create jobs and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels while utilizing available resources."


Tagged categories: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Funding; Research; Roads/Highways; Solar; Solar energy

Comment from Ken Johnson, (5/28/2014, 11:40 AM)

This is a very interesting use of solar technology. Even if it proved impractical for wide use on roads and highways due to load or skid factors, it would be of use for the millions of acres of parking lots in North America.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/29/2014, 8:13 AM)

Parking lots, which by definition have cars parked on them, shading the panels and making them ineffective? Also, panels will be at a less than ideal angle, and have an additional ~30% cut in production beyond poor angle losses due to the thick glass on top. It is MUCH cheaper and MUCH more effective to install solar panels in parking lots OVER the cars. Ideal angle can be achieved, cost is much lower, the panels will get full sun, and the cars will get protection from the elements. This article is a "neat idea" generating a lot of press, but with many drawbacks - and I haven't even gotten into the cost.

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