Finding a way to replace regular, concrete roads with ones that could better serve a sustainable world has long been Scott and Julie Brusaw’s dream. Lately, the couple has been working on that dream so much that — at least on Tuesday — they didn’t even sleep.
“All of the publicity is keeping us hopping,” Julie said by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon, after Scott had fallen asleep. “I have over 6,800 unanswered emails in my inbox right now. Not counting all of the thousands I have responded to of course!”
The e-mails are about the couple’s Solar Roadways project, which aims to replace traditional asphalt and concrete roadways with solar panels that are covered with four-square-foot glass hexagon panels. The glass panels are designed not only to withstand the heaviest of trucks, but are also textured, encouraging tires to grip the surface and water to run off. The solar panels underneath generate energy from the sun, which can not only power nearby communities, but also the electric vehicles that drive above them. The power could also fuel embedded heating elements that would melt ice and snow, essentially making plows obsolete. To top it off, the power also lights up yellow LED lights instead of painted-on road lines, making night time driving safer.
CREDIT: Sam Cornett
It’s a seemingly crazy idea, but according to the couple, it’s actually working. Boosted by two phases of funding they’ve received from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, they’ve built a parking lot that they say can withstand weight, generate electricity, and ultimately help fight climate change.
“It’s so exciting to have the parking lot now, to see and touch and walk on,” Julie said. “Finally, we’ve gone from concept to a tangible prototype.”
If every roadway in the country were replaced with Solar Roadways — a huge feat, admittedly — Julie and Scott estimate that enough solar energy could be generated to entirely substitute power generated from fossil fuels, and then some. Combined with the fact that the roads could charge electric vehicles (and thereby increase the viability of those vehicles) the couple estimates that the roads would, if installed everywhere, have the ability to cut American greenhouse gas production by 75 percent.
The couple also contends that the roadways would pay for themselves over time because of the fact that they generate power.
The Solar Roadways project has been in the works for quite some time, with Scott and Julie initially receiving a contract from the Federal Highway Administration in 2009. The results of that contract were favorable enough that they were awarded a follow-up contract in 2011 worth $750,000 to build the prototype parking lot in Idaho.
Now that the prototype is nearly finished (it still needs some mastic filling between the panels, and software for LED patterns), the couple’s hometown city of Sandpoint, Idaho is looking to be its first customer. If that happens, it would be the first solar-powered parking lot in the world. A far cry from an actual road, but a step, Julie said.
“We want to install a sufficient number of parking lots, sidewalks, driveways etc., that we feel ready before moving on to roads,” she said. “However, we have potential customers waiting from all over the country and all over the world, so we are hoping to move very quickly.If we meet our goal on Indiegogo, that will enable us to hire our initial team, and gear up for production.”
The couple has launched a $1 million Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the project. They’ve so far raised a little more than $143,000.