Solar roadways have, up until now, been a fairly theoretical infrastructure program. In many ways they make sense, given that more and more cars are becoming strictly electric and you need to be able to charge your vehicle on longer trips.
Now, a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 85 located in rural Georgia is a test to see how effective the idea of a solar roadway could be. The project, called “The Ray” is expected to be an excellent alternative to plain asphalt roads.
This piece of interstate is used less than many others in the south and serves as an excellent testing ground for solar roads. Over the next few years, the solar panels will be studied to see how much revenue they can generate and how long, if at all, they pay for themselves.
“We’re at a tipping point in transportation,” says Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray. “In five to ten years, we won’t remember a time when we invested a dime in infrastructure spending for a road that only did one thing.”
Interstates come with a number of challenges in and of themselves that a solar roadway could potentially alleviate. There are $227 billion in damages due to accidents each year, and roads damage the natural environment and wildlife as well.
But with solar roadways, adjustments can be made to, for example, heat a section of the road that has frozen over, or light up to indicate the presence of a wild animal or something else on the road.
Kelly is optimistic about the future of solar roads.
“We’re pushing the idea that these kind of installations can become widespread energy generation system for state departments of transportation,” says Kelly. “Highways can eventually make money, and even serve as a power grid for the future.”
But there’s still work to do.
“We have to prove there are benefits here to the investor,” says Kelly. “Our role is to catalyze change, so to do that, you need to focus on everything. We don’t have to just talk about low or zero emissions, we can talk about revenue. Why miss an opportunity to leverage more for your investment dollar?”