North Idaho electrical engineer Scott Brusaw of Sagle says every mile of four-lane highway built with his new Solar Roadways panels would produce enough electricity to power 500 homes. If he rebuilt the entire 47,000-mile interstate system, he figures he could meet the nation’s power demands and more.
A pipe dream? The U.S. Department of Transportation doesn’t think so.
It awarded Brusaw a $100,000 grant to conceptualize his solar road panel by February. But Brusaw plans to build a working model that not only produces electricity but also includes a heating element to melt snow and ice and a plumbing system to carry the water away.
“We’re designing it now and preparing to order parts,” Brusaw said.
The panels won’t be cheap. Each 12-by-12-foot square would cost an estimated $6,900.
Brusaw estimates it will take 5 billion panels to cover every interstate in the country.
The cost to build and repave highways varies widely, but for some perspective, when then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposed his Connecting Idaho plan in 2005, the estimated $1.6 billion was to build 258 miles of roads – which averages something like $6 million a mile.
With Brusaw’s estimate, it would cost around $3 million to run a mile of his solar panels end-to-end.
The technology won’t help Gov. Butch Otter reduce the state’s $240 million annual shortfall for highway maintenance.
But Brusaw’s solar road could happen sooner than you think.
“I don’t see anything here that gets over the economics, but maybe since it costs so much to build a highway anyway, maybe he’s got something,” said John Gardner, a Boise State University professor and energy expert.
Brusaw thinks the first money will be in parking lots.
They’ll be the place to test out the technology: There won’t be overloaded 18-wheelers driving over his structurally reinforced panels. And the automobiles will be traveling a lot more slowly.
He knows the interest is there. A local story about his idea was misinterpreted when a Delaware paper picked it up and made it sound as though the panels already existed.
“We started getting calls from doctor’s offices, condominium owners and other businesses with parking lots that wanted to go off the grid,” Brusaw said.
Eventually Brusaw will have to show that his solar road could withstand fuel spills and the elements, Gardner said. Repair costs also have to be taken into account – along with the sun itself.
“The sun isn’t always shining and often it isn’t shining anywhere in the country,” Gardner said.
Brusaw already has a company interested, but he’s not ready to say who. What he wants, though, is to test it in northern Idaho, where 130 inches of snow fell a couple of years ago.
“We know we can make it work in the desert in Arizona,” he said. “If it will work here it will work anywhere.”
Brusaw said he had long thought about an electric road.
But it was his wife, Julie, who came up with the idea of building it out of solar panels while the two were talking about the threat of global warming.
ROCKY BARKER, Idaho Statesman – http://www.idahostatesman.com/102/story/895850.html