The dream of driving across America on solar panels took another small step towards coming true. Scott and Julie Brusaw's Solar Roadways concept beat out 3795 other ideas to win the popular vote in GE's Ecomagination Challenge and a $50,000 prize. That money is only a small fraction of what the Brusaws will need to produce a working prototype of a roadway solar panel and develop it for mass production, but every penny helps. Solar Roadways is up for $100,000 more from Ecomagination when the contest ends in November, and the project has received various grants, including one from the US Department of Transportation. I'm still not sure about the practicality or safety of driving on glass solar panels, but the world seems to be in favor of the idea. And the Brusaw's are working tirelessly to make it happen. Listen to Scott Brusaw's victory phone conversation with GE in the audio clip below. It all sounds so reasonable when he describes it.
We recently reviewed Solar Roadways and Brusaw pretty thoroughly, so I won't get too bogged down into the details. Suffice to say that the United States has thousands of miles of roadways. If you could create a solar panel that you could drive on, those roads would represent a perfect location for a public solar grid that could power the entire nation. Brusaw calculates that such a system would cost about the same (adjusted over lifetime) as many traditional roads. Each 12' by 12' drive-on solar panel has a target price of $10,000. Sort of makes the recent $50k prize seem rather small, right? Especially when you consider how much money, and effort, needs to be placed into finding a glass surface that can stand up to constant auto traffic. Brusaw and his colleagues have yet to produce such a material. Until they do get a working prototype it won't be clear if the Solar Roadways concept is feasible or fantasy. GE's Ecomagination prize is a nice start, but the money is only a small success. The real victory is that people believed in Solar Roadways enough to vote it up to #1. It'll be interesting, maybe hilarious, to see if that faith turns out to be well founded in the years ahead.