SANDPOINT — Coming soon to a roadway, parking lot or driveway near you.
But if you want a sneak peek at the first commercially available version of Solar Roadways modular solar panels, head on over to Jeff Jones Town Square. The Sandpoint-based company recently installed the SR4 model of the panels, which feature new LEDs and solar cells as well as an anti-glare surface at Jeff Jones Town Square.
They were installed by the company at its own expense as a way to thank the city and the community for serving as a real-world pilot site and helping Solar Roadways to finetune its product.
The new panels, which were installed in mid-November, are more efficient — capable of producing up to 50 watts — and should be available to customers in the first quarter of next year, Solar Roadways founders Scott and Julie Brusaw told the Daily Bee. The new panels have a different texture, more the feel of rough concrete than the small knobby bumps. The surface comes from a Canadian company that makes pool surrounds, which means little or no skidding or slipping.
Another thing people might notice is the panels diffuse light, which solves several problems, Scott Brusaw said. The first is it acts like an anti-glare surface and the other is that now, when you come across the lights from an angle, you see them more clearly because they’re illuminated across the top of the surface.
The panels also feature on upgrade to the LEDs used, which are not only better but take less time to install. Other upgrades include more heating traces so the panels heat up faster, Scott Brusaw said. The new ones are more efficient and now are 50-watt panels and did well during a recent demonstration in Orlando, Fla.
The LEDs also allow customers to do everything from parking lot lines to advertising as well as street lines or warnings or upcoming traffic problems. Because of the solar technology, the snow melts, eliminating the need for snow removal, the pair said.
While some of the base centers are used to route the different conduits and cable, others have been drilled through to give the water a place to seep into the ground beneath the system.
The panels were installed about two weeks ago, with the new recycled rubber base speeding the installation and also helping take more items out of the waste stream, Julie Brusaw said.
The new base improves the modularity of the panels, matching the shape and size of the Solar Roadways panels, Scott Brusaw said. Now if crews have to access something underneath the panels, it’s an easy process.
“If I have to get underneath it, I pull off the panel, I can pull the base out by itself and I’m looking at dirt or compacted sand,” he said. “I can dig down, whatever I need, re-compact it, put all that together so now it’s truly modular and it’s easier.”
Because of the system’s modularity, any repairs leave the system as good as new, Julie Brusaw said.
“No one would ever know that you repaired something,” she said. “It’s just as good as new. You can’t do that with asphalt or concrete easily. Usually they do a quick fix so you see that.”
While they are slightly more expensive to make, they weigh much less than the old concrete pads and, as a result, cost less to ship. They also are more environmentally friendly since they use all recycled materials, the Brusaws said.
The material holds up well. In fact, during a test to simulate the wear and tear caused by a tractor-trailer, both the panels and connectors exceeded expectations. “I would have thought (the tests) would have torn those things to shreds,” Scott Brusaw said. “Instead, it pretty much looks new.”
“That test simulated 15 years of truck abuse in three months,” Scott Brusaw said. “This could last longer than asphalt could.”
The panels are Solar Roadways’ first commercially available product and the company is in talks with several companies and entities. While they can’t name all of them, they can say that those entities include NASA to do at least a portion of the Kennedy Space Center parking lot and the city of Orlando to do a half-dozen small projects.
While the company isn’t accepting purchase orders yet, the Brusaws expect that to take place sometime in the first quarter of 2020. Those interested can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the company’s notification list.
In addition to its manufacturing partner under contract in Ohio, Solar Roadways is in talks with another in Denver, Colo. In addition, they have a development team in Ohio that will do installations, contract negotiations and other things, the Brusaws said.
Research and development will remain in Sandpoint with the goal of a new facility on a larger property than their current Pine Street location. “We’re thinking up to 100 employees eventually,” said Julie Brusaw.
The pair said they are grateful to the city and residents of Sandpoint for their support and being a part of the real-world testing through the pilot site.
“That’s just been a really important component because you can do all the laboratory testing but you need to have real-world testing to supplement that and the people of Sandpoint have provided that for us and enabled us to move forward so we’re really grateful,” Julie Brusaw said.
It’s amazing to think that the idea they dreamed up more than 10 years ago is so close to getting into customers’ hands, the couple said.
“It’s exciting,” the pair said, almost in unison, with Scott Brusaw adding, “We’re anxious to get it in everywhere.”
“We’re talking to some really interesting customers all over the world and we’re so blessed to have customers from all 50 states and virtually every country in the world,” Julie Brusaw added. “We recognize that’s not typical, that that doesn’t normally happen and we don’t take it for granted.”
Information: Solar Roadways, facebook.com/solarroadways, twitter.com/SolarRoadways or instagram.com/official_solar_roadways/
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.