SPOKANE, WASH. — The solar panels that Idaho inventor Scott Brusaw has built aren't meant for rooftops. They are meant for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails and, eventually, highways.Brusaw, an electrical engineer, says the hexagon-shaped panels can withstand the wear and tear that comes from inclement weather and vehicles, big and small, to generate electricity.
"We need to rebuild our infrastructure," said Brusaw, the head of Solar Roadways, based in Sandpoint, Idaho, about 90 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington. His idea contains "something for everyone to like."
"Environmentalists like it," he said. "Climate change deniers like it because it creates jobs."
While the idea may sound outlandish to some, it has already got $850,000 in seed money from the federal government, raised more than $2 million on a crowd-funding website and received celebrity praise.
Solar Roadways is part of a larger movement that seeks to integrate renewable energy technology — including wind, geothermal and hydro power — seamlessly into society.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., described companies like Solar Roadways as "niche markets" in the booming alternative energy industry.
"They represent the type of creative innovation that addresses design and energy, while showcasing the diversity of solar applications," said Tom Kimbis, a vice president of the association.
Brusaw said that in addition to producing energy, the solar panels can melt away snow and ice, and display warning messages or traffic lines with LED lights.
There are skeptics, who wonder about the durability of the panels, which are covered by knobby, tempered glass, and how they would perform in severe weather or were covered with dirt.
"It seems like something reasonable and something that is going to be very expensive," said Lamar Evans of the National Renewable Energy Association in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.