You’re moving slowly through rush hour traffic. Instead of asphalt, your car is driving on top of specially designed solar panels. That’s the vision of one Northern Idaho couple. It’s a vision that’s coming closer to reality thanks to their successful crowdfunding campaign.
For nearly 10 years, engineer Scott Brusaw has been chipping away at his idea to change the nation’s roadways.
Then they put together a crowdfunding campaign on the website, Indiegogo, which included this video that's drawn 16 million views -- more than a lot of viral cat videos muster.
The opening of the promotional video says, “It’s technology that replaces all roadways, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, tarmacs, bike paths, and outdoor recreation services with solar panels.”
The Solar Roadways campaign has doubled its original funding goal. With more than a week to go in the campaign. It’s the most money ever raised on Indiegogo. Brusaw said he and his wife have been putting in 18-hour days to keep up with the campaign.
Brusaw’s plan is to encase solar panels in glass that will provide traction for cars. The panels will also light up at night with LED bulbs and melt snow off the roadway. They’ll also be able to charge electric vehicles.
“I think in the beginning about half the people thought we were geniuses and half the people thought we were off our rockers,” Brusaw said.
It sounds like a lofty goal, to say the least. But it’s not the first time engineers have looked to paved surfaces to generate energy.
Mark Hallenbeck, the director of the Washington State Transportation Center, a research agency in Seattle, said engineers have thought about other ways to harness energy generated along highways. These ideas range from placing solar panels along roadsides, to capturing kinetic energy from moving cars, to storing energy from the asphalt’s temperature.
“These guys aren’t the only people who’ve explored it. There have been lots of interesting concepts. These guys appear to be farther along than others. The real question now is: It works in their backyard. Will it really work in reality?” Hallenbeck said.
Hallenbeck said that’s where field tests come in. Brusaw's field tests will soon get underway, thanks to money from around the world that poured into the Solar Roadways crowdfunding campaign.
So far, Brusaw has only been able to afford a small prototype installed in a parking lot. He said the next steps will come in phases.
“We’re going to start off on non-critical applications, like driveways, and parking lots, and sidewalks, and bike paths. It’s not going to disrupt traffic if something goes wrong. Then we’ll slowly move out onto residential roads. There will probably be some more lessons to learn there. And then our ultimate goal would be the highway,” Brusaw said.
Brusaw hopes to install several parking lots in Sandpoint, Idaho, this upcoming spring, including one at the welcome center and the local animal shelter. Plans are also in place to install the panels on city sidewalks, on the tarmac at the Sandpoint Airport and on an Amtrak passenger platform. Brusaw said he’ll monitor the Sandpoint projects for about a year to further tweak the design.