Sulu's support draws cash to Idaho solar-road business

A tweet by 'Star Trek' actor George Takei pushes a company's crowdfunding drive past its goal.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWMay 29, 2014 

When the helmsman of the USS Enterprise likes your invention, you know you're on the road to success.

George Takei, who portrayed Sulu on "Star Trek" and has more than 8 million followers on social media, plugged a North Idaho couple's idea for transforming roads, sidewalks and parking lots into solar surfaces. The next day, Scott and Julie Brusaw saw their Indiegogo campaign pass the $1 million goal.

Takei learned about Solar Roadways of Sagle, and tweeted Saturday: "I like the sound of that. Worth a look. Dare to dream, I say."

The Brusaws launched their online crowdfunding campaign April 21 to move their product toward manufacturing. They've received a flood of attention from news media, technology blogs and social media in the weeks since, and on Tuesday had raised more than $1.4 million from more than 33,000 contributors. That includes 73 who gave $1,000 each and seven who gave $10,000 each.

"Right after the campaign began there were so many people around the world wanting to help," said Bonners Ferry resident Barbara Russell, a volunteer working to draw attention to Solar Roadways. "It has been incredibly exciting, and there are so many intelligent and passionate people being brought together in conversation and support of this project."

One volunteer started a support team for the fundraising effort, while another made a video titled "Solar FREAKIN' Roadways!" that has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube.

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

The hexagon-shaped, inch-thick panels collect solar energy that can power heaters and lights under the glass, with electricity to spare. With a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration, the Brusaws built a small parking pad next to their workshop using 108 of the panels. The pad remained free of snow and ice throughout the winter.

The city of Sandpoint has applied for a federal grant to use the technology in a test project downtown, and the Brusaws hope to build a small manufacturing plant in Sandpoint within the year.

"We want the first projects to be right in our own backyard," Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer, said in an April interview.

The Brusaws, who have been swamped with interview requests and messages of interest in their solar panels, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

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