The crowdfunding story of the year is SolarRoadways, the firm run by an Idaho couple that wants to repave America’s asphalt with solar panels.
Julie and Scott Brusaw have now raised just short of $US2 million on Indiegogo. With over 38,000 funders, it is the most widely sourced campaign in Indiegogo history.
So…When can we start driving on the panels?
According to Scott, we can expect the first installation next spring at a welcome center parking lot in Sandpoint, the town up the road from SolarRoadway’s HQ, also known as the Brusaw residence.
“We’ve lined up a couple people to hire, we’re looking at some resumes, places in town, getting our ducks in a row,” the 56-year-old Brusaw told BI.
In the idealised case of replacing all ~31,000 square miles of paved road- and walk-ways in the lower 48 states with solar panels, Brusaw has calculated that his panel designs could meet the ~3,800 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumed by the U.S. 3x over.
It’s true that, in Brusaw already anticipated some of the critiques in the project’s extensive documentation. And The Week’s John Aziz (who first gave us the head’s up on this story) also did a great write-up of why it seems unfair to second guess a project that’s still in its infancy.
Brusaw acknowledges that there is no guarantee of success if one measures their potential solely on results in controlled settings. Besides addressing anything unanticipated that comes up once the panels are in the wild, the greatest challenge will indeed be manufacturing them cheaply enough to meet demand. The means used so far — assembling them by hand, which at one point entailed working out of a Residence Inn in California — won’t cut it for much longer.
“That’s something we have to figure out, how to mass produce these,” he said.
Among the other unprecedented things about the project is its complete rejection of professional investors. Brusaw got into the details a bit more about why they have decided to go down this path. He said he moved to Idaho soon after leaving his job as the research and development director at an Ohio manufacturing facility, scarred by the effects of seeing his colleagues’ jobs off-shored. He has been wary of outside decision makers ever since.
“It bothers me that American businesses are transferring work overseas — always has bothered me,” he said. “Even at the company in Ohio — I won’t name them — someone else bought the company and immediately started transferring work overseas, and the quality became horrible.”
The company will thus remain private, eventually to be funded through sales alone. Brusaw says they have already been in talks about shipping panels to NASA, Boise State, Wright State, and Amtrak, which plans to repave a passenger platform with the panels.
“Other people are saying, ‘Can we buy stock? Will you go public?'” Brusaw said. “If we go public, we’ll have stockholders to answer to, but they will be more focused on increasing the bottom line…I’m not going to do that.”
Brusaw credits a screening of Al Gore’s 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth” and his wife’s encouragement with rekindling a lifelong vision of making roadways somehow more useful than hunks of asphalt. Thanks to Julie’s successful therapy practice, Brusaw says the family had a nest egg off which he could start assembling his vision.
They haven’t looked back.