Thursday, March 19, 2015

Paving the Road

The beautiful object in the photo is a) Turkish tiled floor? b) a schematic model of a carbon molecule? No, it's c) a close-up photo of Scott and Julie Brusaw's driveway in northern Idaho. More specifically it's the solar-paneled driveway they installed through their company, Solar Roadways, to demonstrate the viability of the oversized (12'X12') panels. With help from a community grant, and another from the federal DOT, they have gone on to install solar roadway panels in a parking lot in Sandpoint, Idaho. Someday they would like to replace ALL our highways with solar roadway panels--a project they say would produce three times the US's current electrical needs.

Will that happen? Not soon. With the DOT grant, and more than $2 million raised online through Indiegogo with the help of this youtube video the Brusaws have planned larger prototypes and begun the expensive laboratory testing that will address doubts about strength, durability, and safety. While DOT spokesperson Eric Weaver has expressed skepticism whether Solar Roadways' plan for replacing highways is "realistic," he does believe it could work for "smaller scale purposes" such as "pedestrian roadways."

And indeed the town of Krommenie, a suburb of Amsterdam--bless the Dutch!--just last fall installed a 70-meter stretch of bikeway using solar panels developed by the Dutch research institute TNO--the first actively-used prototype for the technology. Does this matter? Not yet. But the determination of people like the Dutch researchers, the Brusaws, the 50,000 people world-wide who donated research funding, and the townspeople of Krommenie who took a chance with public funds to see if they could live a little greener--all this tells an important story about the ingenuity, optimism, and dedication that may rescue us yet.

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