Highway 101

The Road to California's First Solar Highway?

California is a big state, and I've traveled most of it. I started my career at the extreme north, lived for a while near the south end and ended up in the middle. My sister is in the Bay area and my daughter attends University of Oregon, so I'm on Interstate 5 and Highway 101 quite a bit.

Those ribbons of roadway provide a wonderful service, transporting people and commerce. But I've often wondered: isn't there more we can do with them? Could they perform some sort of double duty?

Maybe they can. A proposed pilot project involving the state Department of Transportation would use solar panels along freeway interchanges to generate power. The sites are between Gilroy and San Jose on Highway 101.

Read more about them here, here and here.

The idea of solar roads isn't new. In fact, Oregon completed the nation's first one in 2008 at Interstates 5 and 205 (pictured above), and The Netherlands is paving bike paths with solar panels. Learn more here and here.

California seems like an ideal place to test the concept of solar roads. It has more sunny days than Oregon, and a mandate of 33 percent renewables. Gov. Brown, in his green jobs plan, endorsed the creation of a solar highway.

The pilot project would be in the Bay area, but I would love to see a test in the San Joaquin Valley, where temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and highways shoot through large stretches of undeveloped countryside.

The Valley has rich solar potential. Dozens of projects are on the drawing boards, and more farmers are using solar arrays to help run their dairies and packinghouses. We are hearing more about solar panels on rooftops and on parking garages. Solar panels are already over our vehicles; maybe soon they'll be under them as well.

Photo of Oregon solar road by Oregon.gov