Hurricanes in the southern states located along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean are known to wreak havoc among cities, leaving devastation in their wake. Hurricanes will leave municipalities without power for days while they recover from the damage.
In 2017, the city of Tampa initiated a pilot program for solar sidewalks to power intersections following Hurricane Irma. This plan was originally suggested by Vik Bhide, Tampa’s current mobility director.
Hurricane Irma had hit the area as a category four storm, knocking out power to nearly 4.5 million homes and businesses across the state of Florida. The storm was strong enough to knock down three construction cranes in the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The aftermath of a hurricane can leave many dangerous situations on the roadways.
“In the aftermath of Irma, we (Tampa) had a significant number of traffic signals that went several days without grid power,” Tampa Smart Mobility Manager Brandon Campbell stated. “Our staff has the capacity to deploy generators to help bridge the gap between the outage and restoration of power, but that approach has limitations.”
Campbell said the year-round storage, set-up time, as well as monitoring and refueling of the generators takes resources that are sometimes scarce, especially in the aftermath of a storm.
“The timeframe when a signal is dark presents risks to roadway safety,” Campbell said.
The pilot program was conceived as a way to potentially maintain power through a longer-term outage without the drawbacks associated with generator deployment, Campbell stated.
From installation, to configuration and connection, the project took approximately five years to complete and is located at the intersection of North Jefferson Street and East Cass Street in Tampa.
“This included asking the industry for initial information through a request for information, procurement through a request for proposals, COVID-related supply chain challenges and installation by city forces with technical support from the vendor,” Campbell said.
The solar installation currently generates about 75% of the power needed for the traffic signal at North Jefferson Street and East Cass Street. The city worked with Solar Earth, a Canadian-based company that provided the materials and installation support.
The solar sidewalk spans almost 90 feet, consists of 84 panels and generates approximately 4,956 kilowatts of power yearly. These solar panels installed on the sidewalk, sitting on the surface to absorb as much sunlight as possible. They then feed solar energy into a white transformer. The solar sidewalk can generate three to five days’ worth of power to the intersection. The entire project cost was roughly $45,000.
“The Signal Stays On” is proclaimed on the transformer, and passersby can read about the solar project below this header. The project is also known as a net zero solution and is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.1 metric tons per year, the transformer states.
“The intent of the system is to mitigate risk to the intersection,” Campbell said. “Between the panels and the included battery bank, we would expect the signal to continue running for several days amid a power outage.”
The solar sidewalk completed installation around the time of 2022’s Hurricane Ian. With the installation being a permanent one, the city of Tampa was able to monitor the results of the project during Hurricane Ian. They will continue monitoring any results and explore the potential for expansion if and when needed. Campbell reported they will evaluate the need on a case-by-case basis. “We (Tampa) currently use solar panels on most of our warnings beacons,” Campbell said in regards to expanding the project to other parts of Tampa. “We also looked into potential solar-powered street lighting in locations where grid connections are difficult. We don’t have any explicit plans for these, but would consider the option if needed.”