On Friday, September 30, the city of Sandpoint, Idaho, was expected to provide the first public demonstration of what are called "Solar Roadways" at its town square.
In 2010, Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer and inventor, demonstrated the concept of a solar road panel and videotaped the event. Not long afterward, representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation visited Brusaw to learn more about the invention and subsequently gave him a $100,000 grant to continue working on solar road panels. This was followed by two additional DOT grants.
Solar Roadways is a modular system of specially engineered solar panels that are made of specifically formulated tempered glass that can support the weight of vehicles, including semi-tractor trailers. The surface has the traction equivalency of asphalt. The panels contain heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation. They also have microprocessors, which allow them to communicate with each other, as well as with central control stations and vehicles.
Other features include the fact that the panels generate energy; do not soften at high temperatures, as is often the case with asphalt; are impervious to potholes; and can provide a "home" for cables and wires.
At this point, Solar Roadways is focusing its attention on using the panels for walking and bicycle paths, driveways, and parking lots. Eventually, it plans to expand to highways.
"We will be able to charge electric vehicles with clean energy from the sun, first on our solar parking lots and, when we have enough highway infrastructure, while driving," Brusaw said.
The solar panels of the "roadway" that were expected to be unveiled on September 30 in Sandpoint encompassed 150 square feet of the pedestrian path near the fountain at the square. The demonstration was meant to provide early testing for Solar Roadways SR3 panel in a pedestrian and bicycle application. Heating elements built into the panels are designed to melt snow and ice, and LED lights are incorporated to feature interactive displays (eliminating the need to paint traffic lines and caution messages on pavement). The city has also been installing infrastructure for fiber internet, which is also expected to come into use with the Solar Roadways project in the future.
"This is an exciting project for Sandpoint, and it showcases one of the defining and most unexpected characteristics of our community," said Jennifer Stapleton, city administrator.
The demonstration did not go according to plan, however, until early Sunday morning, Oct. 2. The delay was the result of Brusaw being unable to get the solar panels perfectly level on a bed of sand. Rather than have the crowd wait an indefinite period of time to see the whole array in action, though, Brusaw demonstrated a small number of the panels at 5 a.m. Sunday, which lit up in the pre-dawn.
Aaron Qualls, director of planning and economic development for Sandpoint, put the delay in perspective.
"With transformative, disruptive, never-before-tried-in-the-world technology, you're going to have hangups," he said.