Idahoans' solar road panels remove snow, generate power

A project on the streets of Sandpoint aims to transform energy production.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWMay 13, 2014 

A project on the streets of Sandpoint aims to transform energy production.

The northern Idaho city is on track to be the first to replace a traditional road surface with super-strong, textured glass panels that harness solar power.

The 1-inch-thick panels developed by Scott and Julie Brusaw, of Sagle, will melt snow and ice, power LED lights embedded in the roadway and generate electricity. Sandpoint is getting ready to apply for a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to use the technology in a test project downtown.

"We want to do a sidewalk and a driving section," City Engineer Kody Van Dyk said. "That way we can demonstrate which one works best, which one has (the) best opportunity for viability, and see what the constructibility issues are."

The Brusaws recently built a small parking pad next to their workshop using 108 of the hexagon-shaped panels. The pad remained free of snow and ice through the North Idaho winter, said Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer.

The couple also have submitted prototype panels for strength and endurance testing.

"We know how to make it now, so we need to gear up for manufacturing and start making these things," he said.

Brusaw envisions beginning with a small manufacturing operation in Sandpoint within the year, then opening a larger plant in Coeur d'Alene or Spokane as interest in the product grows.

"We've got people waiting to order these things. And once we get it perfected … it will be time to open that big plant," he said. "I've got the feeling we're just going to get nailed with orders left and right."

The couple began raising money April 21 through the crowd-funding site Indiegogo.com to launch the manufacturing phase.

Their company, Solar Roadways, is a private corporation. As of Monday, the campaign had raised $79,472 of the $1 million sought.

The Brusaws built the solar parking lot at their home with a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The panels collect solar energy, which is converted into electricity that operates heaters and lights under the glass, with power to spare.

"In the summertime that will take me off grid; it will spin the meter backwards," Brusaw said.

One day, he said, businesses will be able to generate all the power they need from parking lots covered in the high-strength solar panels, each of which covers about 4 square feet and weighs 110 pounds.

"Whatever parking lot you have would feed the building," Brusaw explained, with excess electricity available to sell to utilities to help meet renewable energy mandates.

The Brusaws believe their technology can transform U.S. highways and cityscapes into sprawling networks of energy generation and also provide surfaces that are durable, safe and less expensive to maintain than concrete and asphalt.

Sandpoint is eager to learn if the experimental surface will be less expensive to maintain.

Snow removal, reapplying lane stripes and filling potholes all may go away.

"Those are exactly the things we want to test in the demonstration project - find out what kinds of savings there are in road costs and maintenance costs," Van Dyk said.

The city also is talking with Amtrak about using the panels to keep snow off the platform of its Sandpoint depot, which will be refurbished starting this year.

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