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"Harnessing Wind on our Highways"


Since transportation and energy are inextricably connected, The Ray is taking steps to promote and capitalize on clean energy opportunities. We’ve already embraced solar generation on both the road and in the right-of-way. The Southeast’s first right-of-way solar project was launched in early 2020, collecting clean energy from approximately 2,600 high-efficiency solar panels at a diamond interchange at Exit 14 on The Ray. The open space of the exit ramp provides ample land for solar panels. The road’s surface can also be used to generate electricity, which we demonstrate with the Wattway solar road in the parking lot of the Visitor Information Center at the Georgia/Alabama line on I-85. These projects are possible in the sunny region of LaGrange, Georgia, but other energy sources can also be tapped in our area to build a clean transportation system.

From the first recorded windmills in Persia around 500 to 900 AD to the famous Dutch Windmills in the 15th century, bladed wind turbines have been an iconic source of clean energy. Today, “wind energy is at the crest of initiatives to address global warming in the coming three decades,” according to Paul Hawken (the same man who inspired Ray C. Anderson’s spear-in-the-chest-moment in 1994!).

Drawdown lists wind energy as second only to refrigeration in total positive impact in reversing global warming by 2050. Understanding this potential for clean energy, businesses and entrepreneurs are addressing the limitations of existing turbines by imagining alternatives. Conventional turbines require specific conditions to correctly harness energy, so adapting the technology to accommodate differing landscapes or wind speeds will expand opportunities to generate wind energy in places like the roadside right-of-way.

Have you ever stuck your head out of a car window to feel the wind in your hair? That airflow caused by moving vehicles is actually an untapped source of energy — but not for long! Entrepreneurs and innovators are finding creative ways to capture wind wherever it blows. For example, the company Devecitech aims to harness this airflow with dynamic, vertically standing wind turbines. The Enlil turbine’s compact frame and innovative design help capture the constant movement generated from passing vehicles. The technology is still in development, with a working model on its way, but the team at Devecitech estimates that each turbine will generate one kWh (kilowatt-hour) of electricity per day. An innovative solution powered by an unutilized source, median wind capture can generate energy efficiently and bring roadways closer to zero net carbon.

Lamp posts swaying in the wind demonstrate the Vortex Shedding Effect leveraged in bladeless wind turbines to generate energy

Another innovative technology is the bladeless wind turbine. Derived from the Vortex Shedding Effect, shown above, a bladeless wind turbine consists of a cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod, creating energy through the oscillation of the cylinder. The nine-foot, thirty-pound device requires less raw materials, installation space, and maintenance than traditional wind turbines. The bladeless generator by Vortex Bladeless is designed for on-site generation in residential areas with wind speeds from three meters per second to ten meters per second. Its bladeless design and quiet, non-aggressive movement don’t injure wildlife or bother neighbors. Its electricity is generated through an alternator system. The bladeless turbine can work on or off-grid, in conjunction with solar panels, or with other generators. As of this publication, Vortex Bladeless is still in its manufacturing phase and has not yet implemented and proved its products.

Another alternative wind turbine has been developed by Flower Turbines. Their 2-bladed vertical wind turbines are more efficient at low wind speeds despite producing low noise levels. Conventional turbines require large distances between turbines, but Wind Tulips actually are more efficient when clustered together. By innovatively arranging the overlapping semi-circle blades, this design increases the speed of the wind hitting the second blade. Additionally, horizontal ribs on each blade reduce turbulence and increase efficiency.

New wind technologies like the bladeless and vertical turbines are designed to capture energy in low-speed wind areas like inland Georgia. While offshore wind farms are often considered the best wind energy generation strategy for our state, placing wind turbines near homes and businesses reduces loss and decreases the cost of delivering that energy to its consumers. With low noise levels and an aesthetically pleasing design, these innovative turbines can be part of small scale wind installations within communities.

Demonstrating technologies like this on The Ray can change people’s perceptions of what wind energy can look like and where renewable energy can be generated.

As you might imagine, restrictions on installations near highways are strict to protect drivers and roadways. But the small-scale of this new generation of wind capture technologies may work within the regulations and take advantage of underutilized land, like the right-of-way. We believe that demonstrating technologies like this on The Ray can change people’s perceptions of what wind energy can look like and where renewable energy can be generated.

Our sustainable energy future requires creative solutions. Taking advantage of energy in transportation with turbines near roadway airflow or solar panels in or around the highway will reduce our reliance on gas and repurpose areas we overlook today. Which alternative wind turbine design is your favorite? What are other ways we can imagine clean energy generation on our highway? Comment below or let us know on Twitter at @TheRayHighway.

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