“Since our founding, The Ray has been inspired by the opportunity we saw,” said Laura Rogers, deputy director of The Ray. “Now, with the support of this cutting-edge solar mapping tool, The Ray can work with transportation agencies across the country. We will help them envision and plan solar energy projects using their ROW land in a way that simply wasn’t available before.” The new mapping tool can produce precise configurations of solar arrays. Therefor, they utilize the state department of transportation’s (DOT) own datasets. Esri’s ArcGIS software suite is the foundation platform of choice. The tool includes advanced 3D modeling, solar radiation calculations based on elevation and surface, and viewshed analysis. Rogers continued, “What used to take weeks or months to evaluate suitability for roadside solar development, this tool that Esri provided accomplishes at a fraction of the time with much more precision.”
Proving ground for new technologies
The Ray also functions as a proving ground for new technologies like solar power, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and smart landscape architecture that can serve as a model for sustainable infrastructure management. “The partnership between Esri and The Ray essentially helps the country rethink the ROW. We move toward a stewardship model for the tens of thousands of acres on the highway roadsides,” said Allie Kelly, executive director for The Ray. “It goes beyond transportation. It explores the highest and best use for state DOTs. For some, the priority may be rural broadband or buried energy transmission lines.” Kelly continued:, “On The Ray Highway, we have demonstrated renewable solar [arrays] on the roadside, and now with Esri, we have the best tools to help other states move quickly to explore, plan, and build out their own ROW projects”.
Clean highway test bed
The organization now works within 15 states with over two dozen transportation agencies to replicate their success as a clean highway test bed. “The Ray is helping state departments of transportation understand the economic and social value of their ROWs. It’s important for producing renewable energy and making a contribution to our climate challenges, all designed to support a more sustainable transportation future,” said Terry Bills, Esri global transportation industry director.
Anticipate, plan, feed
In addition to calculating the economic potential of all the land area within the ROW, Esri’s solar tool also enables state DOTs and other transportation agencies to do a couple of other things. Firstly, anticipate unintended consequences of installing solar panels on the highway roadsides. Think about the interruption of a scenic viewshed. Secondly, to engage in preliminary site planning exercises. These include having the ability to alter the shape, size, or scope of any solar array in order to address a potential social impact. Also, to compare the economics of various scenarios. Lastly, to plan solar arrays on other ROW areas. Examples are: rest stops and park-and-ride sites. They are providing solar canopy as well as feeding clean energy into EV charging stations available for commuters.