Nonprofits create new tool to study solar project potential on roadside land
Research published by the Webber Energy Group (WEG) at the University of Texas at Austin, and by The Ray, a nonprofit that studies technologies that could transform the transportation industry for a Vision Zero future, documented the efficiency and economic, social and environmental benefits of installing solar panels on interstate right-of-way (ROW) land. The findings showed that solar panels at these outputs can generate up to 36 terawatt hours per year — enough to power 12 million electric passenger vehicles — with the energy generated by roadside solar panels worth an estimated $4 billion per year.
However, simply installing solar panels at interchanges, exits, rest areas and visitor centers — which are maintained by state governments — can be challenging due to safety, environmental and future land use considerations.
To address this, The Ray partnered with Esri, the global leader in location intelligence, to configure a ROW solar mapping tool that allows users to quickly and accurately analyze the appropriate and economically valuable ROW locations. can be used to install solar panels.
“Since our inception, The Ray has been inspired by the opportunities we saw in the underutilized roadside land,” said Laura Rogers, The Ray’s deputy director. “Now, with the support of this advanced solar mapping tool, The Ray can partner with transportation agencies across the country to help them conceive and plan solar projects using their ROW land. in a way that just wasn’t available before.”
The new mapping tool is also capable of producing accurate configurations of solar panels on all types of ROW, using the State Department of Transport’s (DOT) proprietary data sets. Built using Esri’s ArcGIS software suite, the tool includes advanced 3D modelling, solar irradiance calculations based on elevation and surface and viewshed analysis.
Rogers continued, “What used to take weeks or months to evaluate roadside suitability for solar development, this tool that Esri provided achieves in a fraction of the time with much more precision.”
With a site built 18 miles from the section of Interstate 85 in western Georgia, The Ray also serves as a testing ground for new technologies such as solar energy, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and smart landscaping that can serve as a model for sustainable development. infrastructure management.
“The partnership between Esri and The Ray is essentially helping the country rethink the ROW and evolve it into a stewardship model for the tens of thousands of acres along the highways,” said Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray. “It goes beyond transportation and examines the highest and best use for state DOTs. For some, the priority may be rural broadband or buried power transmission lines.”
The organization now works in 15 states with more than two dozen transportation agencies to replicate their success as a clean highway test bench.
In addition to calculating the economic potential of all land area within the ROW, Esri’s solar instrument also enables state DOTs and other transportation agencies to do the following:
- Anticipate unintended consequences – and their effect on nearby communities – of installing solar panels on highway verges, such as the interruption of a scenic viewpoint
- Participate in site planning preparatory exercises, including the ability to change the shape, size, or scope of a solar panel to address potential social impact, and compare the economics of different scenarios
- Plan solar panels in other ROW areas, such as rest areas and park-and-ride locations, provide a solar canopy, and import clean energy for EV charging stations available to commuters
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