Solar Sound Barrier

In the search for a solar solution to power our cities, one of our biggest obstacles is the massive acreage required by conventional arrays. Photovoltaic panels are flat and expansive, and urban centers are at a serious loss for free space. Now Australian renewable energy retailer Going Solar has conceived of a clever strategy that infuses urban transit systems with energy producing potential – install solar panels in highways as sound barriers!

Going Solar‘s first highway installation was completed on the Tullamarine Calder Interchange in Australia. The solar sound barrier comprises 500 meters of photovoltaic panels that are attached to a public display showing the project’s power output. As the highway is located near some residential areas, energy doesn’t have to travel far to reach its destination, and the massive solar panels provide much needed soundproofing to the houses nearby.

It is expected that the installation will produce 18.7 megawatts per year, which is enough to cover its cost in about 15 years. The innovative application has netted Going Solar the ATRAA‘s award for best grid-connected system

+ Going Solar



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  1. Dernell June 1, 2011 at 1:19 am

    That’s a mold-breaker. Great tihkning!

  2. EcoConnoisseur September 4, 2008 at 12:51 am

    I think a major player in his equation should be a very small startup called Envision Solar International Inc., a San Diego, Calif.-based global developer of solar integrated building systems, and has planted its Solar Trees in parking lots across the country.

    The two-year-old company sees owners of large parking lots such as shopping malls, amusement parks, hospitals and schools, as prime candidates for its 12-foot-tall, 10-kilowatt Solar Trees. “Parking lots are the awful forgotten wasteland of every project,” says Bob Noble, a LEED-accredited architect. “We do ‘solar you can see.’ It’s the most public presentation of a company or agency’s commitment to sustainability.”

    Maybe along Highway are next?

    Not before the hit the selves of stores! Envision has also launched flat-pack products, the LIfeTree™ and LIfeShade™:

    -these are flat-pack options (solar in a box)
    -they offer a nice backyard feature and provide shade without messing up your roof
    -the price point is lower than almost any roof install ($15,500 for the LifeShade™ and $16,500 for the LIfeTree™)
    -they use the latest technology micro-inverters so you don’t need equipment at your meter, it’s just an AC line that any electrician can connect
    -the micro-inverters come with an online system that tracks the production of clean energy graphically (great education tool for the kids!)

    What do you think?

  3. energydude September 3, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Hey Dudes, 18.7 Megawatts is a trival amount of electrical CAPACITY, (not ENERGY which is measured in Megawatt-hours). Small gas fired turnbines produce about 75 MegaWatts of Capacity EACH. The typical nuclear unit (singular) produces about 1000 Megawatts (carbon free I might add). This addition will not offset one single fossil fuel plant. All it will do is free up power for power marketers to sell on the open market. A 15 year payback is ridculous too. That’s about as good as a coal plant. Gas Turbines pay back in about about 5 years.

    Old Utility Guy

  4. dreamvine September 1, 2008 at 2:18 am

    This is an amazingly good idea, and I think I have one too haha

    I also think that someone (probably me in a few years) should invent and develop a solar powered forest. It would involve some spray going onto leaves to allow them to both use light to grow and also send energy into batteries. This power generating forest would also clean our air and be a habitat for animals.

    Perhaps it isn’t as stupid as it sounds?

    I’m going to write some more about it at my blog if anyone is interested.

  5. docrings September 1, 2008 at 12:29 am

    Why not some kind of hot liquid plumbing under the acres of black asphalt? There\’s your invisible energy producer. And the thermal mass allows the energy to continue into the night.

    There\’s 4 million miles of roads in the USA… even converting 0.1% is ~3 billion sq. ft. of solar radiation absorptive area. Just brainstorming, here….

  6. dent424 August 31, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Very interesting idea. If this kind of system (either the current one or a more advance future one) could generate a return on investment, you could imagine it being used as a way of funding things like road maintenance. You could have infrastructure that could potentially sustain itself.

  7. h2meyer August 31, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    The good news is, projects like this are finally getting traction in the United States. Although Oregon doesn’t exactly qualify as one of the country’s sunniest spots, the state is known for it’s embrace of all things sustainable and entrepreneurial thinking. As such, they have launched the country’s first “solar highway”. Granted, it’s a small start, but hopefully a harbinger of good things to come. For more info on Oregon’s solar highway, check out Alison Wiley’s write up on Diamond-Cut Life.

  8. macrumpton August 31, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    The problem with this scheme is the orientation of the panels. If a solar panel is facing the sun perfectly it gets the most energy. If it is tilted 45° away it gets 1/2 the energy of the panel facing the sun perfectly. When the panel is tilted at 90° to the sun it gets nearly no energy at all. So if these highway panels are facing east they are great at dawn, but the higher the sun gets in the sky the less they receive. If the panels face south they get power all day long, but not very much because the sun is always facing 25° or more away from the panels. Because the sun is lower in the sky in the winter the panels do better than they would do in the summer.
    The other big problem I can see is that unless these panels are in an area like the open desert or the top of a hill, there will be shade from trees and buildings.

  9. corbettmar August 31, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Seriously? I mean, it’s neat and everything but you have got to be kidding me. 19 MW a year is practically nothing, and the project not paying for itself for 15 years means ton me that this is a waste of time, an absolute joke.

  10. andreb August 31, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I live in Kansas and I am hoping that we can someday have solar and wind turbines along I-70 to power electric cars. It seems to me that on of the complaints for large scale solar and wind power is the transmission lines, run them right next to the highway. Another benefit is that your equipment is right next to transportation.

  11. BlueBerry August 31, 2008 at 9:50 am

    I would like to add an urban twist to the highway PV thing, Why not do this on elevated train tracks and stations as well? NYC/MTA has miles and miles of elevated structures that could not only hold PV panels that feed right into the grid but they could also block sound as well.

  12. jakel August 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    “In the search for a solar solution to power our cities, one of our biggest obstacles is the massive acreage required by conventional arrays.”

    I don’t think I would classify this as one of the “biggest challenges.” When there are solar panels on the roofs and facades of every building in every city, then we can consider space a challenge. The main benefit of this approach is saving materials otherwise used for a sound barrier. But creative approaches are always welcome. A few years ago McDonough proposed covering the entire CA highway system in PV panels…

  13. Steve N. Lee August 29, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Killing two birds with one stone- addressing both noise pollution and the need for alternative energy. Excellent.

    As icehawk says above, there’s plenty of roadway in the US in states where the sun never stops shining and the roads are lovely and straight. Yes, it could be a tremendous success in places like that.

    The only draw back I can see is the estimate of 15 years to see a real return on your investment. In an ideal world that’s probably a fair estimate, but we don’t live in an ideal world and the roads are not filled with ideal drivers. How much will the inevitable car accidents push up the price when panels have to be replaced? (Or has that been thought of and incorporated into the calculations?)

    That said, it sounds a viable solution, so I wish the project the best of luck.
    Steve N. Lee
    author of eco-blog
    and suspense thriller ‘What if…?’

  14. icehawk August 28, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Stuff like this is great, can’t wait to see it come to America where we have plenty of roadways to take advantage off.

    Also, there’s a typo toward the end of the article:
    “energy doesn’t have to travel far to reach [[reach]] its destination”

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