A public square in Sandpoint, Idaho now has what looks like a light-up dance floor — 30 hexagonal tiles with flashing LEDs.
But each tile is actually a solar panel, and collectively, the tiles will soon power a nearby fountain and restroom, according to Spokane-based news station KREM 2.
The installation, which debuted October 3, is the first public test of solar roadway technology in the US.
Solar Roadways, the company that developed the technology being demonstrated in Idaho, was founded in 2006 by husband-wife team Scott and Julie Brusaw. Their vision is to create solar panel tiles that can be installed on top of existing asphalt.
The trial in Sandpoint is meant to test the company’s newest prototype, called SR3 since it’s the third iteration. Julie Brusaw tells Business Insider that the team is planning six or seven pilots like this one.
“We need to find any glitches or problems which need to be addressed in order to get ready for mass manufacturing next year,” she wrote in an email.
Each SR3 tile contains a 44-watt solar panel. The tiles are designed to heat themselves so the hardware doesn’t freeze when temperatures drop, ensuring the panels can generate energy year round (and eliminating the need for a snow plow on roads that use the tiles).
The tempered glass that coats the panels is durable; according to Northwest Public Radio, it can withstand the weight of a semi truck. And the LED lights actually serve a purpose as well — they’re designed to replace painted lane markers, making it easier to change a road’s design if it undergoes construction.
Brusaw says the company hopes to swap out the tiles in the Sandpoint pilot fairly often and replace them with new iterations that they want to test.
“We had a manufacturing equipment failure which caused some of the LEDs and solar cells to fail so we are going to have to swap them out for the first time as soon as we make new panels,” she said.
Because of that issue, the tiles in Sandpoint aren’t yet generating power (only the LEDs are working). But once the faulty ones are swapped out and the installation is hooked up, Brusaw estimates that the set of 30 could produce 5.28 kilowatt-hours daily (based on the assumption that the panels will get four hours of good sunlight in a day.)
To put that into perspective, an average of approximately 170 tileswould be needed to fully power a household. At a little over 4 square feet each, that means roughly 745 square feet would need to be covered in tiles to power a single home — though the numbers change based on the amount of sunlight in a given area.
Once this initial trial is functioning well, Brusaw says the team plans to install similar pilots in Baltimore and Missouri by the end of the year.
The company has received several grants from the US Department of Transportation, and raised an impressive $2.2 million in an Indiegogo campaign. In addition to helping end dependence on fossil fuels, Scott and Julie Brusaw also envision a future in which Solar Roadways tiles could be used in solar parking lots that charge electric cars.
European countries have been experimenting with the technology for a little while now. The Netherlands has installed a similar system on a bike path near Amsterdam, and a solar road project is also being developed in France .