Sampling Of Roadway Renewable Energy Designs

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Roadway renewable energy enthusiasts might be interested in seeing some of these demonstrations, referred to by the Federal Highway Administration  as “Alternate Uses of Highway Right-of-Way (ROW).”

Although some may believe renewable energy test are a new thing, rest assured, they are not at all, writes the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), stating, “Renewable energy has been used in roadway applications for at least 60 years.”

Evidence of using renewable energy solutions for ROW problems can be traced back to Klamath Falls, Oregon. In 1948, where a geothermal deicing mechanism was used on a bridge design near a steep grade, and in Colorado, where a feasibility study was undertaken to determine the feasibility of geothermal highway sections. Here, results showed snow-cover duration was greatly reduced where heat pipes had been installed.

The FHWA reports site-specific geothermal ROW systems have site specific, have been installed in New Jersey, South Dakota, Wyoming, Virginia, Japan, Switzerland, and Argentina.

Successful results like these have raised the question of how renewable energy might be generated in a highway ROW.

“Currently, solar, wind, and biocrop growth/harvesting, or “bioenergy,” technologies offer the most immediate opportunities for generating renewable energy in the ROW,” states the FHWA, adding that other renewable energies can also be explored, including items like waste-to-energy conversion; hydrogen fuel generation via wind, solar, biomass, and waste resources. Add to this intriguing list of possible solutions technologies such as “energy harvesting via wave-, tidal-, and vibration-capturing technologies.”

Think about these tests in a positive light. Highway ROWs represent a tremendous potential resource of untapped energy, featuring a significant acreage position that is very scalable when large quantities of energy might be required.

According to the FHWA, several state DOTs, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, Ohio and California (see report for specific details), are now conducting comprehensive statewide renewable energy feasibility studies to identify promising renewable energy technologies and best locations where such technologies might be implemented.

Of particular interest are solar energy studies that have been slated, using PV technology.

The FHWA reports two types of PV systems are being used: traditional flat-plate PV systems and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems.

Such testing is not limited to the United States. Solar cell applications alongside travel lanes, versus in the road itself, exist in both Europe and Canada. The United Kingdom (UK), Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, France, and Germany have been installed various types of hybrid PV noise barriers.

PV system mounted on a noise barrier in Europe. Note: In the U.S., this type of installation would be limited by the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide. No structures of any sort are allowed to be placed on top of or directly behind guardrails or median barriers (unless the barrier is specifically designed to be crash-worthy). See FHWA Office of Infrastructure’s Clear Zone and Horizontal Clearance website for more information.

Here at home, several state DOTs “are beginning to pursue similar projects encouraged by international activities, as well as directives to find ways to reduce statewide GHG emissions.”

This is very encouraging news.

Place Oregon in the lead for such projects. The first solar highway project in the US was developed here in 2008, “Oregon’s Solar Highway Demonstration Project.” The highway interchange – Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 – has since been designated as a “Corridor of the Future.”

PV Oregon Hgwy
Aerial view of Oregon DOT’s Solar Highway Demonstration Project Photo credit: Oregon DOT

This corridor consists of a 594-panel, 104-kWdc ground-mounted solar array system that has produced approximately 130,000 kWh annually since it first went online – roughly enough electricity to supply a third of the energy needed to illuminate the interchange in that area.

Generating energy on ROWs is not just the purview of the government. Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based company launched by Scott and Julie Brusaw, has generated a considerable interest, having received Importantly, it received two phases of funding from FHWA for research and development of a paving system that will conceivably pay for itself over its lifespan of the road system.

solar roadway Idaho safe_image
Scott & Julie Brusaw stand on modular sections of PV driveway

This modular system, using a tough glass surface, has been tested for traction, load testing, and impact resistance testing in civil engineering laboratories around the country, and exceeded all requirements. Finally, it can generate electricity and enough heat to keep the road surface ice-free. Engineer Scott Brusaw did not return calls to comment on the progress of his project.

We look forward to seeing the expansion of all these projects over the next decade.

Photo credits: via Solar RoadwaysSolar Highway Demonstration Project Photo credit: Oregon DOT, EU PV noise barrier via

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Glenn Meyers has 449 posts and counting. See all posts by Glenn Meyers

4 thoughts on “Sampling Of Roadway Renewable Energy Designs

  • PV panels on the backslope of the R.O.W. makes sense. Solar collectors on/in the roadway surface is a nice fantasy, but there are way too many practical engineering hurdles to overcome for this to ever become a reality

    • I agree with Larry. While putting solar “IN” a roadway might make some sense depending on how it is done; putting solar “ON” a roadway doesn’t. And while putting solar next to a roadway is a much better idea; you are still going to have to deal with the higher levels of roadway contamination that are going to exist in those applications.

  • Looks like a program for the World Bank’s low interest development loans. There’s just so much open space available near roadways not to take advantage of this option. A great resource for cities and states.

  • Heat pipes in bridge decks, transferring heat from beneath stream beds to de-ice the roadway, and greatly reduce winter maintenance costs. Save on salt material and application costs, save on pollution of streams and nearby soil, save on bridge maintenance, save on repair of cars that didn’t crash, etc.
    As the road signs like to remind us, bridges are where it ices up first. And in many conditions, bridges are the only places where ice forms.

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