The Ray and the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin will partner to create ground-breaking research in solar energy. Through this research, the Energy Institute will analyze United States interstate shoulder, known as rights-of-way, mile by mile, for solar energy generation potential. Through an interactive web-based tool and report, each state will be able to access individualized projections of how much solar energy could be generated on their rights-of-way.
Specifically, the final analysis will show:
- the potential to generate solar energy along the rights-of-way of interstate highways in all 50 states;
- projections of revenue for each state department of transportation based on four business models recognized by the Federal Highway Administration;
- the economic value of that solar energy based on time of generation, carbon offsets, and local, prevailing electricity rates; and
- 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 Ray has long focused on new, innovate revenue opportunities for state departments of transportation. “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.”
As our roads become smarter and electrified to accommodate the technologies that make driving safer, more efficient and more sustainable, they will need localized energy generation and a steady revenue stream to support the infrastructure demands. By producing energy in the right of way, departments of transportation 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.
“Right-of-way solar just makes sense,” said The Ray’s Founder, Harriet Langford, “like my daddy, Ray Anderson, used to say, this is ‘so right, so smart.’ 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. Since Oregon DOT’s first highway solar pilot in 2008, Georgia and The Ray are only the third state in the nation to follow suit.”
The Energy Institute’s experience in identifying and quantifying the full-system cost of electric power generation and delivery, and studying the energy infrastructure of the future makes them a natural fit for this project. Previous projects have included building map-based calculators that let users determine the cost of new power plant generation in every county in the 48 contiguous states using spatially resolved data and a range of assumptions for capital costs, operating costs, fuel costs, and environmental costs (such as carbon prices).
“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.”
About The Ray: The Ray is a proving ground for the evolving ideas and technologies that will transform the transportation infrastructure of the future, beginning with the corridor of road that is named in memory of Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), a Georgia native who became a captain of industry and was recognized as a leader in green business when he challenged his company, Atlanta-based Interface, Inc., to reimagine the enterprise as a sustainable company—one that would pursue zero environmental footprint. Chaired by Ray’s daughter Harriet Langford, The Ray is an epiphany of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Learn more at www.theray.org.
About The Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin: The Webber Energy Group is a research group in the Mechanical Engineering Department at UT Austin that addresses critical issues at the intersection of energy, technology, policy, and the environment. The group engages undergraduate, graduate, and professional academic researchers from a variety of engineering, policy, and scientific disciplines. The team also includes talented media and administrative professionals to help communicate our research to the public. Learn more at www.webberenergygroup.com.