Everyone has been installing solar panels like crazy onto the roofs of houses and commercial buildings, and even unused pastures. But no one has thought about the miles and miles of road that span the country (and the world). In fact there are currently 4.12 million miles of road, enough to circle the globe 165 times!
What if just a small fraction of that was covered in solar panels? The amount of electricity generated would be considerable, to say the least.
Ray C. Anderson was dubbed the “greenest CEO in America” for making his billion dollar carpet company environmentally sustainable. Because of his great passion on these issues, his daughters created the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and have started many sustainable energy projects to continue his legacy.
One of these projects involves an 18-mile stretch of highway in rural Georgia, nicknamed The Ray.
Over 5 million tons of CO2 are emitted just on this 18-mile section of road in one year. The highway has become a lab for experimenting with various strategies to create highways that aren’t just for driving on. The goal is to create a road that is “zero carbon, zero deaths, zero waste, zero impact”.
Heavy-duty resistant photo-voltaic pavers that are extremely thin can be put directly over existing road, and one 50 square meter section has been installed and is already powering a visitor center to demonstrate what these pavers can do. Another benefit is that the panels generate revenue, which is great encouragement for continued investment.
The foundation is experimenting with different landscaping ideas to help absorb runoff toxins as well. They’ve planted improved habitats for pollinators, and have even mixed recycled tires with asphalt to increase road durability and reduce noise. They’re also growing crops in otherwise unused areas next to the roads that can then be harvested to make paper products.
In 2016 France was the first in the world to install a solar road over a half-mile long called Wattway. At the time it cost $5 million to build, but to be the first in the world, it was worth it.
Running through a small village, the goal is to power the town’s street lights and to see, over two years, if the panels can really withstand constant traffic. The company is installing various test sites around Europe to continue perfecting the technology. Watch the BBC interview here.