An Idaho-based startup is paving the way to the future, with an innovative design for roads made from solar panels.
Solar Roadways took the Internet by storm in 2014, when it raised more than $2 million on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform.
Although Solar Roadways is still in its research and development phase, the groundbreaking invention by the husband and wife team of Scott and Julie Brusaw has changed the way the world looks at one of its oldest and most fundamental infrastructural achievements.
“It was actually Julie’s idea,” says co-founder Scott Brusaw. “We had watched Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ Shortly afterward, Julie asked me if we could make road surfaces out of solar panels. I explained that solar panels were fragile and couldn’t be driven upon. But I kept thinking about it and, about a week later, explained that if we could make a structurally engineered case to protect the solar cells, a solar road might just work. That’s when Solar Roadways was born.”
The Brusaws hope that the concept will revolutionize the transportation and renewable energy industries in the United States and around the world. The technology’s impact is expected to be even greater in areas that do not have a reliable supply of electricity.
The Brusaws claim that their panels will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can withstand up to 113,400 kilograms of weight. They would also be less expensive to maintain than traditional paved roads and might even pay for themselves with the energy harvested by the solar panels. In addition to their self-sustaining abilities, the panels could potentially feed the electrical grid with the excess solar power they would generate.
“Our infrastructure system will double as a producer of a great amount of renewable energy,” says Scott. “Roads will become modular, quick and easy to fix, potholes will be a thing of the past, nighttime driving will be safer due to illuminated road lines, northern roads will be much safer due to no snow or ice accumulation on the road surface, etc. We will eventually charge electric vehicles while they’re being driven.”
Solar Roadways started out in 2009 with a $100,000 U.S. Department of Transportation contract, and received a $750,000 follow-up contract two years later. With the second federal grant, the company built a 36-by-12-foot prototype parking lot using 108 solar panels. The company tested the panels’ ability to support heavy loads and traction, resist impact and melt snow.
As interest in the company continues to grow, the concept has become the focus of considerable debate at both corporate boardrooms and family dinner tables. Because of this popularity, Indiegogo recently announced that it would continue to let supporters contribute to the project through its InDemand program.
In the future, Solar Roadways’ founders assert, businesses could install solar-powered parking lots to move toward ending their dependence on the electrical grid or attract customers who could charge their electric vehicles onsite. Residential streets and highways would be their next target. The ultimate goal, however, is to cover all such surfaces that have sun exposure with the panels.
But in the short term, the first planned test uses of Solar Roadways panels include applications like sidewalks and playgrounds, which would not put lives at risk if the technology developed glitches or failed. The product will be perfected in this safe environment, before it is launched in more difficult applications.
The Brusaws’ next steps include several public installations in the company’s home base in Idaho.
“These will be outfitted with our new SR3 panels, and we’ll monitor the installations for several months,” says Scott. “Once we’re convinced that they’re ready for the public market, we’ll begin mass producing. We have customers waiting from every state and almost every country.”
Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.