© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tampa installs a solar sidewalk to back up power for traffic signals at a downtown intersection

Solar Sidewalk in Downtown Tampa, which is raised compared to the rest of the sidewalk, with some metal paneling on top of it, along an intersection with some buildings in the backdrop.
Sky Lebron
/
WUSF Public Media
The area where the solar panels are located have a raised section of sidewalk by about 1.5 inches, according to Campbell.

The city's first solar sidewalk, on a downtown street corner, consists of 84 solar panels that are mounted to the sidewalk and store energy that can power the signal for up to three days.

Hillsborough County’s Power Outage Emergency Beacons aren’t the only innovative way to power traffic signals in the area.

Tampa recently launched its first solar sidewalk on the corner of Cass Street and Jefferson Street, which consists of 84 solar panels that are mounted to the sidewalk and store energy that can power traffic signals at the intersection for up to three days, according to Brandon Campbell, the city’s smart mobility manager.

The panels have a slip-resistant coating to prevent pedestrian danger, and they’ve been tested to sustain traffic for walking, biking, and even a lawn mower driving over them. The area where the solar panels are located have a raised section of sidewalk by about 1.5 inches, according to Campbell.

The city worked with Vancouver-based Solar Earth Solutions on the project.

“As far as I know, this is the only signal that has a dedicated solar array to it in the country,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the idea started after Hurricane Irma in 2017, when the team decided it wanted to find a more resilient and longer-lasting backup power source in case of power outages. The city has an inadequate supply of generators if mass outages occurred, and while some of the signals have battery backups, they only last eight hours.

Hurricane Ian’s impact just solidified the need for more power options.

“We have about 35 generators in our signal shop that can be deployed to any intersection as needed,” Campbell said. “But for a sense of scale, with Hurricane Ian that happened earlier this year, the day after the storm blew through, we had 71 dark signals.”

Solar sidewalks alongside an intersection with some grass and bushes next to it, intersections in the background along with some cars and buildings in Downtown Tampa.
Sky Lebron
/
If the funding is available, Campbell said they could set up their next pilot solar sidewalk at an intersection near Blake High School. His team recently submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the next installation.

So far, the results have been positive.

“Right now, it's generating about 75% of the power needs out there,” Campbell said. “We're looking for ways to enhance the pilot and possibly get that to 100% of the power needs.”

Campbell stresses that solar sidewalks projects like this can be very useful, but they won’t be the answer to all backup power for intersections in the city.

“There are areas where a solar array on the sidewalk wouldn't work well because there's too much shade,” Campbell said. “If it's in the shadow of a building, that sort of thing. There just might not be the right conditions.”

Another question that remains to be answered is the cost of each installation.

“This pilot, we spent about $45,000 on the materials and installed with our in-house forces,” Campbell said. “If we needed to scale that up in any significant way, we definitely wouldn't have the in-house resources.”

And with the rising cost of materials nationwide, it most likely means the cost of each installation will go up.

Campbell said ideally, he sees a mixture between solar sidewalks and Hillsborough County’s emergency beacon system, which is the cheaper option of the two backups.

If the funding is available, Campbell said their next pilot solar sidewalk could be set up at an intersection near Blake High School. His team recently submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the next installation.

He said there’s no timetable for when they’ll receive an answer from the feds.

“Within the scope of what we're trying to do — transforming Tampa’s tomorrow — is to manage traffic or mitigate your congestion, with technology,” Campbell said. “And this is one of those projects that fits within that scope, and it's really one of several different things that we are trying to do as a city to explore new ways of managing the needs of traffic and managing the needs of the citizens.”

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.