SANDPOINT — Another unexpected complication may have prevented the crowd packing Jeff Jones Town Square from seeing the Solar Roadways pilot project completely installed but the mood was one of celebration anyway.
Crews had hoped the existing sand bed would fit requirements but realized after installing a number of the panels and struggling to get them completely level, they would have to pull them out and start over. The only problem? A crowd was already gathering on the other side of the tent.
Scott and Julie Brusaw decided the only fair thing to do was to leave the panels on the edges of the project in place. They then could hook several of the panels up so the crowd, which eventually reached over 200 people, could see the patterns and how the LEDs worked.
“We knew you guys were standing here and we didn’t want you to have to wait another two or three hours without seeing something so we have three panels lit up and you can see some of the panels in place,” Julie Brusaw told those gathered.
The couple thanked supporters for their patience and said they hoped it would only take another couple of hours but didn’t know exactly how long it would take.
As the panels of the canvas tent came down, the crowd applauded and oohs and aahs could be heard as people inched their way as close as they could to the police caution tape marking where the walls once were.
Cellphones were pulled out to grab a shot of the panels, with some saying they wanted to capture history in the making.
“I’m excited to see it happen,” said Gloria Schauwecker. “I think it’s one of the most innovative things anyone has ever thought of and I think it’s so exciting that it’s happening here in Sandpoint.”
The couple and the rest of the Solar Roadways crew eventually worked long into the evening, getting the sand compacted and the panels installed after 9 p.m.
Many of those gathered had attended Friday’s event and said they weren’t about to miss being able to witness history. And while they weren’t able to see a finished project, they said they understood given the situation.
“I’ve been following this since it was first announced,” said Rachel Walters, who live-streamed both events to family and friends who lived outside the area. “I’ve wanted to see it for a long time. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so why not come down?”
While she saw the prototype Friday, Walters said that only whetted her desire.
“I just really wanted to see it,” she said. “I saw the little prototype, but I wanted to see the real thing and see it in action.”
Coeur d’Alene resident Rebecca Wendt drove up specifically to see the project, bringing along her children so they could be a part of it.
“So many resources here are limited,” she said. “The sun isn’t one of them, so to be able to use our roads, our driveways and our parks to harvest the energy we use so much of every day … we’ve got to figure out a better way to do it and this is a wonderful, wonderful idea.
“It’s amazing, it’s awesome. It’s a game-changer.”
The Brusaws had hoped the panels would be installed and ready to go Saturday afternoon after being forced to delay the unveiling a day after the finishing process with the panels took longer than expected.
Even before the crowd dispersed, the Brusaws were back at work, heading off for sand, compactors and other tools needed to get the solar panels in place and ready to go. The couple and the rest of the Solar Roadways crew said they were determined to have the panels in place and ready to go before they went home.
The project covers 150 square feet of the walkway at town square with SR3 solar panels, each hexagon-shaped panel measuring 4.39 square feet and weighing about 70 pounds. The panels consist of a heating element to melt snow and ice, and the colorful LED display to engage the public. The panels will also offset energy costs for the city’s metered power for the restrooms and fountain at the square.
Scott Brusaw has had a vision of electric roads since he was a child but it wasn’t until his wife, Julie, asked him if he could make the electric roads using solar panels that he started wondering, “Why not?” Why initially dismissing the idea, it stuck with him and he began thinking of how he could encase the panels. Soon Solar Roadways, Inc., was formed.
The company received a grant in 2009 and the Brusaws began developing the panel and eventually came up with hexagon shape as the most versatile for all terrains. The panels are still in the process of testing and next year advanced loading will be done on the panels that will simulate 15 years of truck abuse using a weighted truck tire on an eight-meter section of panels, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Surface traction testing passed beyond what is needed for approval by Americans with Disabilities Acts and the panels have passed impact testing as well.
The Brusaws said there are many opportunities in solar roads. The LED lights can be used for lines in the roads, which could be easily redrawn in the event of an accident rather than putting out traffic cones or flares. The heating elements will keep roads clear in the winter, and coils can eventually be placed in the panels to power electric cars.
The next pilot projects for the Sandpoint-based company are already in the works for Baltimore and at a rest area along Route 66. A total of seven projects are planned, with interest expressed by several Idaho universities which are working to secure funding.
A live feed and information on Jeff Jones Town Square and the Solar Roadways project is available on the city’s website at www.cityofsandpoint.com.