By CAROLINE LOBSINGER
SANDPOINT — The future is up and running at the Jeff Jones Town Square.
After unexpected complications hindered Solar Roadway’s first pilot project when it launched Jeff Jones Town Square site in October, the Brusaws said the problems with lamination of its solar road panels spurred improvements and the panels are now even better than before.
“It’s really nice that we got them in because we wanted to go ahead and do that for Sandpoint, because everybody is waiting and we wanted to be able to get them in in time for everyone to see that snow prevention feature,” said company co-founder Julie Brusaw.
“I was a little gun-shy but we turned them on and they all came up,” added Scott Brusaw.
That didn’t stop them from checking on them frequently during the first few days after the successful installation, the pair admitted.
“We keep going down there to see if there’s anything wrong,” said Julie Brusaw.
“Nope, it’s working,” Scott Brusaw said, finishing the thought as both laughed.
The successful installation in mid-February follows the heartbreak of October’s problems when the start-up’s lamination machine took longer than expected. Done under extreme pressure to remove all air bubbles and hermetically seal the panels to make them weatherproof, instead it damaged the panel’s circuit boards.
At first it was thought the process was taking longer than expected because of the number of panels being cured. It wasn’t until after the cycle, they learned what really had happened — one of the oven’s three heating elements and one of its blowers had shut off. That caused uneven heating and lengthened the heat cycle to 14 hours — more than twice the normal heating time. As a result, the panels were under high heat and extreme vacuum the entire time, Scott Brusaw said.
“We learned our vacuum machine is so strong it tore the circuit boards apart,” Scott Brusaw told the Daily Bee, adding the damage meant only a fourth of the panels worked and some were damaged to the point where they didn’t work at all. After October’s disappointment, Solar Roadways crews went to work and redesigned the circuit boards to handle extreme pressure.
“We put in a couple of layers of redundancies to make sure it could not pull apart and that took a couple of tries,” added Julie Brusaw. “We tried a couple of different things until we found the right solution because we wanted to make sure if that machine went haywire again, the panels wouldn’t be destroyed like they were.”
So many improvements and updates were made to the panels, they garnered a new model number — SR 3.1. To see them in — and working as they should and as they always knew they would — is exciting and gratifying, the Brusaws said.
The next step, they said, is working to acquire funding for mass manufacturing. They’re working with a real estate agent for land to build a facility and exploring different options for funding, from traditional models to franchises and everything in between. It’s a matter of determining what is right for them and their company as well as the planet and the country.
While the problems during the initial installation were a “really expensive lesson,” the Brusaws said they are grateful for what they’ve learned and are thrilled all 30 panels are working exactly as expected — even when the town square was buried under a 2- to 3-foot blanket of snow.
When they arrived at the square, police tape marked off the pilot project from the rest of the square and a tent covered the work area. Again, it took crews most of the night to install the panels since they must be bolted down and bolted to each other.
“We were going to install them the week before but that’s when we got that real clobbering of snow,” Julie Brusaw said, adding that while they waited a bit for conditions to improve, it was still icy, snowy and cold.
“We wanted to get them in while it was still winter so we could, especially kind of perfect during this horrible winter, be able to showcase what these can do for the world. I keep using the hashtag #DisruptWinter — someone came up with that on Twitter and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a good hashtag.’ Someone said you’re going to #DisruptWinter and so I said, ‘Yeah, take out all the pain and leave all the beauty of it.”
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.