By John Miller
SAGLE, Idaho (AP) – A northern Idaho company that aims to transform U.S. highways into a vast energy producing network is getting $750,000 from the federal government for the next phase of its project: A solar parking lot capable of sending electricity back to the power grid.
Solar Roadways, of Sagle, announced it won a Small Business Innovation Research grant for its project from the Federal Highway Administration.
Company founders Scott and Julie Brusaw plan to use the cash to create a prototype parking lot for testing. But their real dream is for a road system built of 12-foot-by-12-foot solar panels rather than traditional asphalt.
Brusaw estimates the panels might cost three times more than asphalt but would produce electricity that could be sent back to the power grid, helping governments and private industry pay for them. He’s hoping his work helps convince otherwise conservative, risk-averse road construction agencies that his panels are suitable for a rollout on an estimated 28,000 square miles of asphalt and concrete across the nation that get enough sun to produce electricity.
“It’s a perfect time to do this, because our highway infrastructure is falling apart and our power infrastructure is falling is apart,” Scott Brusaw told The Associated Press. “Both of them need to be rebuilt. This is a project that combines those two.”
The technology could be made more financially viable through creative financing that includes federal and state subsidies for alternative power, tax breaks and investor-owned utilities’ need for green energy to satisfy requirements being passed individually by states like Washington, Oregon and California, he said.
Even so, transportation experts say convincing highway agencies and others responsible for big asphalt and concrete projects to shift gears will be among Solar Roadways’ biggest challenges.
Steve Albert, the director of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman, said he’s familiar with Brusaw’s work and is excited by its potential, but cautioned that highway and construction engineers are naturally risk-averse when adopting new materials that differ radically from tried-and-true asphalt.1 2 next >>
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