Study probes paving all US highway shoulders with solar panels

Innovation group The Ray, and the Energy Institute at the University of Texas (UT), Austin have teamed up to analyse US interstate highway shoulders, mile by mile, for their solar energy generation potential.

The aim is to let each of the 50 states calculate how much solar energy, and revenue, they could generate on these shoulders, known as rights-of-way.

Organisers say that state departments of transportation (DOTs) could generate revenue through land lease deals, power purchase agreements, the sale of renewable energy certificates, or even by directly selling the energy to power companies.

Announcing the "ground-breaking" study today, UT said the the analysis will probe:

  1. The potential to generate solar energy along the rights-of-way of interstate highways in all 50 states;
  2. Projections of revenue for each state department of transportation based on four business models recognised by the Federal Highway Administration;
  3. The economic value of that solar energy based on time of generation, carbon offsets, and local, prevailing electricity rates; and
  4. Top-level estimate of the cost and benefits of building a national HVDC (high-voltage direct current) transmission network coupled to the solar arrays and using the same rights-of-way.

"The gas tax is a loss-leader over time," said The Ray’s Executive Director, Allie Kelly, "tolling isn’t a politically viable option for many states, and congressional appropriations are insufficient."

UT said that as roads become smarter and electrified they will need localised energy generation and a steady revenue stream to support the infrastructure demands.

"We have found that when stakeholders have unbiased information available to them, they can make energy decisions with a lot more clarity and confidence," said Michael Webber, Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at UT. "That’s our goal with this study: to help people understand the potential for solar in rights-of-way so that policymakers, developers, and investors have a clearer view of the opportunity."

Meanwhile, The Ray, Georgia DOT, and the Georgia Power Company, are beginning construction this summer on a one-megawatt solar farm at Exit 14 that will be the nation’s first pollinator-friendly solar on the highway shoulder.

Image: Scenic route at Monument Valley, Utah (Antonel/Dreamstime)

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