Powering Roadways
with Solar and Wind

Gas guzzlers aren’t the only roadblock to greener transportation. Basic infrastructure such as streetlights, signs and traffic signals also consumes considerable energy.

UNL energy and transportation experts are teaming to develop a wind and solar hybrid power system that generates, stores and distributes electricity for transportation infrastructure. The goal is to create "energy-plus" roadways that produce more electricity than they consume.

The transportation industry has experimented with solar power for roadway infrastructure, but combining it with wind power is almost unheard of, said Jerry Hudgins, the UNL electrical engineer who leads the three-year project, funded by a $999,504 U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

A hybrid system promises a clean, continuous source of power that reduces energy consumption and costs, protects against electrical blackouts and feeds excess energy to the power grid to help offset transportation system expenses.

Civil engineer Anuj Sharma is determining how to plug the system into the power source of existing transportation infrastructure. UNL’s system contains a solar panel and a wind turbine, each collecting energy that is converted into electricity to power the traffic signal, roadway sign or light on which it’s installed.

But what happens on a cloudy day?

Electrical engineer Wei Qiao is creating a smart control system that senses how much power each source produces depending on the weather, traffic volume and other factors. If it’s cloudy, the system would compensate by using more wind power or switching to the main power source.

Hudgins envisions local networks of hybrid power systems connected by smart controls, creating a "microgrid" in an intersection or even across several blocks. Individual systems would communicate with each other and shift power where it’s most needed, such as a busy street during rush hour.

Civil engineer Elizabeth Jones with UNL’s Mid-America Transportation Center is coordinating the team’s partnership with the city of Lincoln, Neb., for prototype testing in 2012 and possible future implementation.

"This could have a significant impact on the next generation of smart electric grids," Hudgins said.

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The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
University of Nebraska−Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development. More information is available
at http://research.unl.edu or contact:

Prem S. Paul
Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development
301 Canfield Administration Building
University of Nebraska−Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0433
(402) 472-3123  •  ppaul2@unl.edu

Vicki Miller, Monica Norby, Ashley Washburn, Elizabeth Banset, Office of Research and Economic Development

Contributing Writers:
Gillian Klucas, Kim Hachiya, Cara Pesek
Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
Steve Smith, Carole Wilbeck

Joel Brehm, Brett Hampton, Craig Chandler,
Alan Jackson/Jackson Studios, Greg Nathan,
Bruce Thorson, Robert Cope, Laurence Smith
Historic photos, page 22, courtesy Joyce Clarke Turvey

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