According to a State of Ohio press release, the Ohio Department of Transportation is partnering with the University of Toledo to create the state’s first large scale “solar highway.”
ODOT will invest $1.5 million in federal funds to install and study a solar array along Interstate 280 right of way near Toledo that will be used to illuminate the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway, aka the fancy I-280 crossing over the Maumee River. The glass-steel-concrete bridge is visually striking by day, and gains more attention at night when a single pylon containing 384 LEDs (capable of creating 16.7 million potential color combinations) are used to create images visible from up to 3 miles away.
The “glass” theme reflects the Toledo’s historical connection (much, unfortunately, now lost) to the glass manufacturing industry.
Construction is slated to begin this spring, and the solar array is expected to begin generating electricity by the end of this summer. The energy collected will be used to assist in powering the lighting system on the highway that leads downtown.
“It’s a win, win for all involved,” explained ODOT Director Jolene Molitoris. “This study project not only supports a growing industry in Ohio, but it also identifies new ways for ODOT to reduce energy consumption and potentially save tax dollars by trimming our electric bill.”
For the next two years, UT will conduct research on the energy produced by the photovoltaic cells in the array and the practical construction and maintenance – including the savings that can be generated – as ODOT considers future solar highways across the state.
Adding . . . according to the Toledo Blade, half the panels will be provided by First Solar and half by Xunlight, and besides powering the LEDs on the bridge pylon, some roadway lighting will also be powered by the arrays (although it is not clear how much).
The Blade‘s story also mentions the project will test the panels’ “effectiveness and durability in a roadside environment that will subject them to weather, road dust, vibration, and – possibly – vandalism.” The issue of durability isn’t as simple as one might think in this environment: ODOT crews tell me they regularly have to remove an unbelievable amount junk that accidentally falls off or bounces or out of trucks, not to mention all the disgusting stuff that interstate drivers intentionally hurl out of their vehicles. They also have claimed to have found gunshots through some of the small solar panels they already use to power small lighting and roadway monitoring equipment along the interstates. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur Kaptur, according to the Blade, suggested that “the solar array could be modified later to include decorative panels and supports that would transform the array into a functioning work of public art, much as the Skyway itself was designed to be aesthetically pleasing.” Unfortunately, camouflage might be a better idea.