You don’t expect to hear about peach milkshakes when discussing the potentiality of public right-of-way (ROW) land to become the most affordable and direct means for transitioning to net-zero infrastructure, but it turns out it’s the perfect metaphor. 

The Ray’s Executive Director, Allie Kelly, had the opportunity to present at the 2023 Esri User Conference Senior Executive Summit and she did just that. Describing what it’s like to enjoy a real peach milkshake on a hot summer’s day—one can assume in Georgia—she equates the moment you try to sip a piece of peach through the straw to the limitations of our power grid.

“That is the U.S. power grid. The straw’s too small. We’re hungry and we have a ton of energy waiting to get on the grid, but the straw is too small.”

Similar to ROW solar, ROW transmission leverages the width of land between the property lines on either side of a roadway or railroad to harness zero-emissions electricity and transfer the energy where it’s needed most effectively. Electric transmission lines, specifically high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables, can be buried underground within the transportation ROW to efficiently move clean current over long distances. The publicly-owned ROW is the ideal place to bury this infrastructure since it reduces potential land-use conflicts with private landowners and aligns spatially with other decarbonization efforts. 

As the private sector continues to invest in electric, connected and autonomous technology, existing transportation infrastructure in the U.S. must transform into a hotbed ready to receive and incorporate renewable power to fuel vehicles as well as the communications infrastructure needed to support their integrated functionality. Buried HVDC transmission lines along the roadside have the potential to feed into a smart macrogrid of the future.

To quote Allie Kelly again, “The right-of-way might be the fastest, the least expensive pathway to a decarbonized, resilient and robust power grid.”

Partnership Spotlight: The Ray’s ROW transmission mapping tool was unveiled by Allie Kelly at the Esri Senior Executive Summit, showcasing the first-ever GIS super tool that can evaluate the interstate and highway ROW for the suitability of burying HVDC. Highlighting the feasibility study conducted by Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) she demonstrated the critical data that this tool utilizes for building out America’s fully integrated infrastructure. 

Now that MnDOT can accurately analyze the data and land-use planning considerations to overlay and network transit with the power grid, the agency is breaking new ground for other state DOTs across America to model.