Anyone who has spent time in the Midwestern U.S. knows that spectacular wind gusts are a common occurrence. Researchers at the University of Illinois recently set out to evaluate whether these gusts can be harnessed effectively at that mainstay of family road trips: the highway rest stop.
Professor Patrick Chapman and team evaluated 32 rest stops and over 20 weigh stations in Illinois to determine the cost of installing and maintaining wind turbines versus the cost of energy generated over time. The researchers wanted to find “grid parity”, or the point when the turbine’s cost matches the cost of grid energy.
None of the rest stops and weigh stations in the study could provide grid parity, but some could get close with government rebates and subsidies factored in. According to the Illinois researchers, it’s common for renewable energy installations nowadays to only be viable with government support. But highway rest stops could be more worthwhile in other Midwestern states, as Illinois happens to have cheap electricity compared to its neighbors.
There’s also a hidden benefit to putting wind installations at rest stops. Millions of curious onlookers could become familiar with wind energy by seeing it in action up close.
Highways are also experimenting with solar power. Oregon is in the midst of installing an 8,000 foot, 104 kilowatt photovoltaic system at the Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 interchange in Tualatin, with plans to expand the solar highway project in the future.