By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A highway snow fence that doubles as a solar power collector has been installed along Interstate 80 as part of a a pilot project exploring ways to get year-round value from snow fences, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) announced.
The agency said if the the solar snow fence project, which has been set-up between Cheyenne and Laramie, is successful, the panels could power remote roadside instrumentation and even feed into the power grid. But first, it needs to see if the solar panels can work in such a challenging environment.
“Snow fences are a valuable tool in winter travel safety, but they’re only useful during the snowy months,” WYDOT spokesperson Doug McGee said.
Traditional snow fences use wooden slats to reduce the amount of wind-driven snow blowing onto and across a highway.
Instead of wooden slats, the fence being tested is made of hardened photovoltaic (relating to the production of electric current at the junction of two substances exposed to light) panels that will pivot to track the sun.
The panels will lock in place when needed to be used as a snow fence.
McGee said that the inventor and designer of the fence received a federal grant for a pilot project to study the dual use fixture, and approached WYDOT about participating.
“This is just another evolution in using different materials that allows us to accomplish the same goal of being able to prevent snow from getting onto our roadways and prevent crashes,” McGee said.
If the pilot project is deemed successful, there’s a lot of room for expansion. There are more than 40 miles of snow fences along Interstate 80 in Wyoming.
The agency says by controlling drifts and keeping the pavement warmer, the existing snow fences have helped to keep the road clear of snow, which has cut snow and ice removal costs for the highway by 50 percent.
The savings over a 10-year period paid for the snow fences, the agency said.