You may have heard the buzz around Solar Roadways, a green tech company offering a solution to the increasing energy crisis through solar power. Cofounders, Scott and Julie Brusaw, have received funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and have found supporters around the world, raising over one million dollars through the crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, to build a solar parking lot prototype. They have even gained a mention on George Takei’s Facebook page.
How did you come up with the idea for solar roads?
My favorite toy [as a child] was an electric road with electric cars. My dream as a 6-year-old was that if we could make roads electric then kids could drive. I kept that thought with me my entire life. In high school I would draw pictures of electric roads.
[Solar roads] were actually my wife’s idea. Julie turned to me one day and said, “Can’t you make your electric roads out of solar panels?”
How did you know solar panels could work?
I thought of a black box in an airplane. If we could make an engineered case that could protect solar cells then we could make this device. I contacted the top materials research labs in the nation and they recommended I make the surface out of glass. I had to get away from thinking of window glass and think more of bulletproof glass. I went to an international glass workshop and I learned that the way you make bulletproof glass is out of sheets of tempered glass. When you temper glass it becomes 10 times stronger and more scratch resistant. That’s how we made our panels.
What has been the biggest lesson in working on the solar road project?
With the Indiegogo campaign we’re over 2 million [dollars in donations]. We have people from all over the world asking for information on how to get this in their country. It’s a very humbling feeling to see that many people want to see your dream become a reality. I feel very blessed by that.
The world of solar must look very bright to you. Do you think more and more companies are going to start investing in solar and other renewable energy sources?
I think this is [a golden era for renewable energy]. I think this because we can’t afford to maintain the roads the way we’ve been making them. We like to say that it’s time to move into the 21st century.
How important do you think programs that train students in renewable energy and sustainability are for the future of the industry?
This is hugely important. I’ve been meeting environmental engineers. That wasn’t even an option when I went to college. Now there are entire programs on this. These kids are growing up and seeing that there are huge problems being ignored. And they’re much better versed on solar energy, wind energy and renewable energy in general. I think it’s great.
What skills do you think are going to be most important for renewable energy companies?
I can only speak for ourselves but we’re looking for mechanical engineers, structural engineers and materials engineers. This project covers all facets of engineering. We’re also going to have assemblers and installers. I also always preach to get a good math background.
What is the best advice you would give a student who is interested in pursuing a green career?
The first thing you have to do is build a prototype to prove that your idea is going to work. If you have an idea, set up a website and start a campaign.
It also doesn’t matter how good your idea is, if you come off as a jerk. You need to be personable and humble. Have a good idea and know how to present it. You have to have good communication skills to get your point across.
Article adapted from Q&A with Solar Roadways founder, Scott Brusaw