The first Wattway solar road pilot in America has popped up in rural west Georgia. The Ray C. Anderson Foundation, named for sustainable manufacturing pioneer Ray Anderson, is testing renewable technologies along an 18-mile stretch of road, and recently installed 538 square feet of Colas‘ Wattway solar road system near the border between Georgia and Alabama.
Part of Georgia’s Interstate 85 was named for Anderson, but as over five million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted yearly on that road portion alone, Anderson’s family felt placing his name there didn’t honor his legacy, and began to look into renewable technologies to clear the air – so to speak. Thus began The Ray, an 18-mile living laboratory for clean technologies, including not only the solar roads, but also a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, and WheelRight, a system people can drive over to test their tire pressure, which could lead to improved fuel inefficiency.
The first Wattway solar panel pilot is part of The Ray near a Georgia Visitor Information Center in West Point, Georgia. According to Wattway by Colas, the average expected output for the 538-square-meter pilot is anticipated to be 7,000 kilowatt-hours per year, which will help power the center.
And these technologies are just the beginning. The foundation will also construct bioswales, or shallow drainage ditches filled with native Georgia plants to capture pollutants during rain. In a right-of-way space, they’ll build a one megawatt solar installation. They’re working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to bring such ideas to life along the 18-mile road stretch. Not only will several of their projects beautify the highway, but will generate clean energy and bring in money for investors. And other parts of the state have shown interest in building their own Wattway roads.
The Ray executive director Allie Kelly dreams of a day when highways will “serve as a power grid for the future,” but she believes that day is coming sooner than we may think. She told Curbed, “We’re at a tipping point in transportation. In five to ten years, we won’t remember a time when we invested a dime in infrastructure spending for a road that only did one thing.”