Solar Roadways Now Hiring!
This was a weekend for celebrations: Memorial Day across America; the Bolder Boulder and Boulder Creekfest in Boulder; and — especially for co-founders Julie and Scott Brusaw in Idaho — a successful Indiegogo campaign for Solar Roadways. As of this writing, the campaign, which sought $1m in crowdfunding, has received $1.4m, with five more days to go before deadline. That’s big news with big implications.
On paper, Solar Roadways could solve, well, most of our most seemingly unsolvable issues. According to the company’s estimates, replacing the current asphalt- and concrete-based infrastructure with its solar-powered panel system would eliminate the need for fossil fuels and coal. Furthermore, if implemented in all 50 states, Solar Roadways would produce three times more electricity than we consume. Collectively, all these benefits could minimize greenhouse gas effects by 75 percent, according to most estimates. A solution to curb climate change? AND these things are loaded with LED lights that illuminate dim roadways, warn drivers of oncoming dangers, and melt snow and ice? It’s no wonder 23,560 people contributed to the Solar Roadways campaign.
This kind of big thinking didn’t happen overnight; the Brusaws started building momentum for their Solar Roadways concept in 2006. In 2010, Scott gave a Tedx presentation on the idea. Press coverage helped raise awareness, of course: in addition to niche and local publications, Solar Roadways gleaned headlines in the New York Times, Popular Science, Time, USA Today, Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, CNN… just to name a few. In 2012, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) made a public endorsement for Solar Roadways.
The Brusaws used an $850,000 grant from the Department of Transportation to build a prototype parking lot. Now, they’ll be able to use the more than $1.4m from the Indiegogo campaign “to hire an initial team of engineers to help us make a few needed tweaks in our product and streamline our process so that we could go from prototype to production,” according to the company’s Indiegogo campaign page. The company intends to begin hiring in June.
While Solar Roadways has so far served as an example of PR and crowdfunding “done right,” so to speak, the next few years will be an exercise in implementation. No, we will not see solar-powered highways next year. The roll-out will have to be careful and incremental, starting with parking lots, then bike paths and roadways, and then maybe — just maybe — highways. Myriad barriers of entry exist; while experts indicate that the science behind Solar Roadways is legitimate, upfront costs will be gargantuan, and that might be an understatement. Scott estimates that a 12′ x 12′ panel costs $10,000; in order to truly cover the existing infrastructure in the connecting 48 states, Solar Roadways would need to produce about 5.6 billion panels. For those keeping tabs at home, that puts the fully implemented project at $56 trillion. Granted, each panel’s lifespan is projected to be 20 years, and the increased energy efficiency will certainly offset costs in the longer term. Furthermore, with a phased implementation, nobody (including the Brusaws) expects Solar Roadways to require $56 trillion at once. Still, though, who is going to produce that kind of funding?
And that’s the question with implications almost as big as the invention itself. Solar Roadways received $850,000 in federal funding; it just received more than $1.4m from more than 23,000 early adopters. At least for now, this is truly a Project by the People, for the People. Small businesses, powered by the collective, can power the country — in this case, literally.
Doesn’t this project seem to have Boulder written all over it? It’s solution-based, forward thinking with a well-thought application for the real world. And it’s gaining momentum. Wouldn’t it be cool to park on one of the country’s first solar-panel parking lots? And wouldn’t it be cool to be one of the first businesses or housing lots powered by its parking? Boulder boasts some of the most progressive start-up funding facilities in the country, run by some of the most imaginative, inspiring minds in tech and business. I feel as though a call-to-action is in order here. Boulder scientists are already creating solar-powered toilets to reduce waste; why not solar-panel parking lots?