Turning freeways into electricity generating 'Solar Serpents'
By Darren Quick
November 8, 2010
With solar power plants requiring large areas which aren't usually available in or close to urban areas, Sweden-based architect Mans Tham proposes cities like Los Angeles take a different road – covering the city’s freeways in solar panels. His "Solar Serpents in Paradise" idea would see 24km (15 miles) of LA's Santa Monica Freeway covered in solar panels – with an average width of 40m (131 ft), that adds up to an area of 960,000 m2 (10,333,354 Sq Ft), enough space for 600,000 domestic panels, which could generate 150 GWh per year. That's more than enough to provide electricity to all the households of Venice, California.
Tham points out that, due to space constraints, the Los Angeles Solar Program focuses on roofs on private and public buildings within the city and solar plants in the Mojave Desert. By covering the large areas dedicated to roads – Los Angeles County has around 800km (497 miles) – in solar panels, Tham says the city could take advantage of public land with existing points of access for maintenance for use as a large scale solar installation.
Aside from capturing solar energy, the “Solar Serpent” would also shade the roads and reduce the need for air conditioning in vehicles traveling under them. It would also allow charging stations to be placed under road overpasses for electric vehicles to recharge in addition to using the locally produced electricity to be used by local households and businesses with minimal transmission costs and loss of electricity due to transmission over long distance power lines.
Tham’s idea also proposes capturing the CO2 rich air from within the Solar Serpent to be piped into algae ponds positioned alongside the freeway to be used for processing biofuels and provide green jobs for neighborhoods that are currently some of the most disadvantaged due to their proximity to the freeway.
The project was exhibited during the Toward a Just Metropolis conference held at UC Berkely this year in June.