A Shift to Solar Powered Supplies and Greener Road Construction
Guest Post: Provided by Andrew Johnson, former employee of the UDOT Traffic Operation Center. (Images and information provided by Trans-Supply).
Environmental and economic sustainability is an issue that will continue to come up as new roads are constructed and repaired.
Road construction is no small endeavor, and a new two-lane asphalt road with an aggregate base can require around 25,000 tons of crushed stone and costing millions of dollars per mile. It isn’t cheap, and it’s not easy, but even some simple changes can make a big difference.
Some of the recent “green” alternatives, from hot in-place recycling and adding old rubber tires as road filler to making the switch to solar powered barricade lights, are changing the way we look at road construction and maintenance. Some things, like switching out the lights, may seem like a small change, but there is a real opportunity there to save money and improve productivity.
Brandon Anderson, the owner of Trans-Supply.com, recently mentioned this increased interest in solar powered supplies and the trend away from battery-powered caution lights. “I have noticed a change in sales from battery powered barricade lights to their solar powered counterparts,” he said. “I believe this is due to solar technology becoming more affordable and making it a viable, economic alternative to traditional battery models. The sales for our barricade lights are almost exclusively solar, and that’s a win-win situation because it’s both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.”
Solar-powered LED caution and barricade lights are becoming more common in road construction areas because they can – very reliably – draw attention in low visibility areas and warn drivers of dangerous conditions or obstructions without incurring the same costs. LED lights are durable, can last years longer than traditional lighting, and offer better distinction at long distances. They require less power to illuminate, reduce the costs of continually replacing batteries, have no filament that can burn out, and provide superior visibility even in poor conditions.
These solar devices are created by first determining how much energy the device will need to achieve autonomy (i.e. how much energy it will need to store to run without the aid of the sun), and then make sure it has a large enough battery to hold the necessary charge. Most regular batteries will need to be replaced once every three months (give or take). These batteries, on the other hand, require little to no maintenance and can power the efficient LED lights for years.
Solar powered road lights have been around for some time, and the same technology is being implemented more and more on everything from street signs and traffic lights to barricades and road studs. A good arsenal of traffic control devices will be an extremely effective tool that will increase safety and allow for better work production.
When lights rely on solar power instead of a tradition battery any barricades which have sat in storage for weeks, or even months, can be put into immediate use without having to check each device to make sure the battery hasn’t fully discharged. The same applies to renting these barricades or signs to others. It won’t matter how much they are or aren’t used, they can simply be moved to their new location where they will continue to provide reliable service.
In the past, the costs around solar technology have, unfortunately been economically prohibitive, but those costs are being driven down every day by new manufacturing techniques and other developments with the technology. It may seem like a small thing to switch from battery powered lights to solar powered, but even the little things will quickly add up when it comes to saving money and improving efficiency. And when road construction is already such a large and expensive endeavor, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity.
Reuse and Recycle
NAPA (National Asphalt Payment Association) estimates that 18 billion tons of asphalt is already in place. The good news is that, with all new technology we have for recycling and repaving on location, we already have a great resource for our future roads. By reusing what we already have, there is a great opportunity to save money while building quality roads.
Asphalt is America’s most recycled product. More than 100 million tons of asphalt pavements are reclaimed every year, and the vast majority of it (more than 95%) is recycled or reused. By combining the reclaimed asphalt with materials from other industries – like used tires or roofing shingles – the entire road can be resurfaced without the same costs and effort behind using virgin materials.
The question of economic and environmental sustainability won’t just go away. If we overuse our resources, there will come a time when we will not be able to maintain our current levels of construction. At the same time, if we cannot sustain an economically viable business model, we will end up with the same results. These new green alternatives have become extremely effective, reliable, and efficient, and with careful management, we can maintain quality roads and minimize the impact on the environment.