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Duo Envisions Paving the Solar Way

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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An Idaho couple wants to replace pretty much every paved surface in the U.S. with smart, tough solar panels—and they’d like you to open your wallet to the idea.

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
www.solarroadways.com

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 Friday (May 23), fundraising totaled over $438,000. The project will receive all of the funding, even if the goal isn't met.

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

Comment from William Cornelius, (5/27/2014, 8:03 AM)

The "Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein. Just move the panels to a roof.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/29/2014, 8:25 AM)

Yep. Roof mounted (or installed OVER cars in a parking lot) makes a hell of a lot more sense, for both efficiency and cost.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/30/2014, 10:40 AM)

No matter where you put solar panels in a northern climate there will be challenges. On a roof, you need to worry about snow cover and having the right coating to keep them clean. Parking lots might work, depending on where and when (mid-week at a mall might be good, weekend no so much). Roads...well, I am not sure these would hold up to a grader or plow truck. Probably a better overall project in a more moderate climate.


Comment from Jim Johnson, (5/30/2014, 4:26 PM)

I can only wonder how the panels will hold up to studded tires and high speed heavy trucks. I cannot envision them being tougher than concrete and that sure does not hold up good itself. Solar is a great idea and I use solar myself, but it has got to economically stand on its own feet without government support or special tax exemptions. Solar power has been around for 100 years so it is time to stop supplementing it and make it stand on its own or move on. M. Halliwell, I live just miles from the Canadian border and the only power I have is solar. It does just fine as long as the temps are above -20 F. The problems at that temperature are not due to the solar panels but are due to the lead acid battery limitations.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/2/2014, 9:13 AM)

Jim - would it help to more heavily insulate your battery setup, or are have you reached the limits due to required ventilation?


Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/2/2014, 11:55 AM)

Jim, I know the technology itself works in the cold (other than the battery issues)...we have numerous solar homes here that, with the batteries inside, do quite well if kept clear of snow, ice and dirt. My concern would be if this system can generate enough heat to remain snow and ice free because I don't know if the glass would stand up to a grader or plow truck. If the blade of any sort of snow removal equipment catches an edge, it'll damage or possibly even shatter the glass. I think it is a very interesting concept and would like to see it succeed...but my practical side prods me to be a bit skeptical due to my northern location.


Comment from Doug Johnson, (6/2/2014, 12:17 PM)

As sand and gravel will get into the joint(plows will hit) I wonder if a clear wear coat could be applied. It would have to be repairable and recoated every so often.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/3/2014, 9:02 AM)

I found someone who did the math. Just plain tempered glass 1/2” thick (not with the special texturing as on this glass) - would cost 20 trillion dollars to cover all paved US highways. This doesn’t count labor, solar panels, wiring, concrete trenches, site prep, et cetera, et cetera.


Comment from Jim Johnson, (6/3/2014, 2:41 PM)

Tom - It is a two fold problem. If the batteries are simply insulated they must be adequately ventilated which negates the effect of insulation. Heating of the batteries mean a heat source, such as propane, is needed and could cause explosion. Heating with electric would require more power than would be generated. Snow/rain doe not harm the batteries or solar panels so either can be exposed to the elements, with the batteries limited by temperature, which is what I have. I have two options - 1)operate my generator/charger every other day for 2 months of the year. I have a very efficient generator that burn only .17 GPH of gasoline. 2) Double my batteries for more capacity at a cost of about $2800. I can buy a lot of gas for $2800 so I am staying with that til a better option is developed. As it is I have virtually free dependable power 10 months of the year, with no government subsidy of any kind. My system proves the technology can stand on its own with NO subsidies if we can just keep government out of it and let the free market work.


Comment from Jim Johnson, (6/3/2014, 2:48 PM)

I am a long way from convinced that these panels will hold up to normal roadway traffic and maintenance, such as snow plowing. Highways 95 and 2 run right through Sandpoint, Idaho, so they could pave a short span of either highway and see how it holds up for 2 years.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/4/2014, 8:53 AM)

Jim - how about somewhere near Odessa, TX where we can have a few hundred oilfield trucks barreling across it daily?


Comment from Jim Johnson, (6/6/2014, 12:12 AM)

Tom, I don’t think it snows that much in Odessa that those trucks would have studded tires. Besides, the builder is in Sandpoint and I am only a couple hours away so I could watch it myself and let you folks know how it was holding up.


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