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Solar Roadways: Why it Pays to Dream Really, Really Big

For a moonshot idea, Solar Roadways's effort to cover the map with solar panels is long on promise but short on confidence.
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It takes a lot to be impressive on Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites.

After all, Canonical's Ubuntu raised close to $13 million for for a hybrid smart phone that could double as a desktop OS in 2013. A year earlier, smartwatch maker Pebble snatched up $10 million from Kickstarter, smashing all records at the time.

But perhaps Solar Roadways, the green tech company that wants to lay the groundwork for solar-power-generating roads across the U.S., didn't set its sights high enough. The Sagle, Idaho-company plans to redesign 28,000 square miles of U.S. roadways with special power storing solar panels. They're made of high-performance glass and also have LEDs that can be reconfigured on the fly to signal changing traffic patterns. So far, Solar Roadways has tapped 36,000 funders to raise more than $1.5 million on Indiegogo, besting its stated funding goal of $1 million. And the campaign still has three days to go.

It's got a compelling story: The company was started by Idaho couple Scott and Julie Brusaw, an electrical engineer and psychotherapist respectively, and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has already kicked in two rounds of funding for testing. Solar Roadways was chosen as a Google Moonshot in 2013. Google singles such companies out for solving problems in innovative, disruptive, or impossible ways. Its driverless cars are another.

Of course there are issues--and big ones. It would cost about $56 trillion to retrofit the U.S. highway system, by some estimates. And that's just to start. There's a whole other network for storing and transporting solar energy captured by the cells that would have to be built. Still, the Brusaws don't seem that worried.

"The 'lower 48' could produce just about enough electricity to supply the entire world," the Brusaws say on their Website. "And once again, remember: these calculations are made with very conservative numbers using north Idaho as a reference point."

Sometimes it pays to dream really big.


 


 


IMAGES: Sam Cornett
Last updated: May 29, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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