Gallery: Crazy Awesome Solar Serpent Structure Proposed For Santa Monic...


Swedish architect Mans Tham went halfway around the world to find inspiration for this insanely awesome design for a serpent-shaped solar skin for the Sana Monica freeway. This renovation of existing urban infrastructure is a provocative conversation starter in terms of sustainable design, and this proposal is an incredible approach that would add 237 acres of solar power to the middle of Los Angeles! How fabulous is that?

From afar the solar structure looks like a long scaly serpent winding its way through the stucco and palm tree studded neighborhoods. Inside is a shaded tunnel-like roadway. Outside is a massive array of solar panels that produce a peak of 150 MW of clean energy for the local population. This is important, as distant power sources can lose 15% of their energy to power lines. The transmission of freeway noise is reduced, and Mans Tham even throws in electric car power stations beneath the behemoth to sweeten the deal.

He also proposes to capture the exhaust fumes to make algae fuel on the side of the freeway. That technology may be down the road, but the overall principle makes a lot of sense right now as we see large swaths of desert turned over for energy production. Add in the controversy over transmission lines and localized solar production makes a lot of sense. What better place to look than the huge amount of acres dedicated to the equally beloved and bemoaned automobile?

+ Mans Tham


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  1. Cees Timmerman July 1, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Similar to the 3.3 GWh solar tunnel in Belgium that was completed in 12 weeks of 2011.

  2. jash08 August 5, 2012 at 1:46 am

    hi, thanks for sharing.. but how do you accommodate roadway signs which have to be seen from a distance?


  3. stermerdxb June 29, 2011 at 10:25 am

    For those of you worring about the problems of exhaust building up inside this thng – think into the future a little bit… If this actually turns out to be feasible, by the time the solar freeway is built wouldn’t our vehicle fleet by more likely to be cleaner, with an increasing percentage of EV’s? Besides, just leave a few inches between the panels and the emissions will escape – no big deal.

  4. jimoerike June 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Build a roadway across the desert with wheels of vehicles making energy from turning on the energy based road, solar enclosure piped powerout, carbon monoxide must have a use vacummed into another pipeline exhalled out or used for plants living in the tunnels

  5. creek walker May 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Wouldn’t a tunnel-like canopy block a lot of sun light? I wounder how the viability would be?

  6. kocancer May 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    As a person involved in transportation planning and roadway design, I really like the concept. Before trying it out on an Interstate highway, I would suggest trying it out on the top levels of parking decks or on surface parking lots, or over some streets where views may not be that important (warehouse district, roads to landfill sites, trucking terminals, etc.) to see how well it works. Some issues that would have to be addressed would be: how do you accommodate roadway signs which have to be seen from a distance? how would you keep people off from climbing up on it like a giant play structure? stormwater and drainage management? loss of views for pleasure and navigation? Very interesting idea but some of these issues would have to be addresed before application on a freeway.

  7. phantomas May 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    what the hell is a “mWhs”?
    milli watt hour second?

    since you only wanted to say MW

  8. combinatorics May 22, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    @the comments: Why should we invest in solar roadways when we could build solar panels on top of roadways? Solar roads are more expensive to build (toughness), maintain (would hold up traffic), and are covered by shadows (cars) during substantial portions of the day. There’s no reason to invest in them when the idea presented in this article is much more efficient.

  9. Domenick May 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Look Ma, no turtles!

    We have so much land paved over for roads and parking lots that could also be used for solar energy collection. Covering vast swathes of desert for this purpose is, in a word, dumb.

    This particular design may have some shortcomings due to exhaust pollution but it helps start the conversation.

  10. EoinCC November 5, 2010 at 5:38 am

    To convert the entire surface of a road into solar collection would be great if it didn’t require unbelievably tough panels (read unbelievably expensive) and the closing of the road. Going over the top could use lightweight materials, much less disruption and a higher potential energy production. To create an ideal scenario, ALL highways would have something like this, or at least pole-top solar collection/wind turbines.

  11. Opiner November 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    A related concept – – just won the GE Ecomagination prize for moving their drive-able solar collection system to the next level..

  12. kkn November 3, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    installing large scale solar inside of urban areas makes to much sense. it eliminates so many issues that nay-sayers give as why it can’t be done…………no transmission lines to build, no transmission losses, no impact from locating in undeveloped area, provides high-tech jobs in urban area, etc, etc…

  13. mkass November 3, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    This is one way at looking at this. A more direct solution is to convert the surface of the entire Santa Monica Freeway into a solar panel:

  14. yesx November 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Great concept, but I do not think Caltrans or LAPD would allow this for obvious vandelism, safety and access reasons. Also, rush hour would produce so much heat and exhaust build up that it would be hazardous to commuter’s health.

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