Creating a ‘Green Roadway’

Local mom and environmentalist Kelly Meyer has teamed with inventors to bring to life The Green Roadway Project, which would supply renewable energy along the country’s roadways.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Imagine harnessing the power of vehicles traversing the country’s highways and roads, and plugging it into a renewable energy grid used to light up communities and electrify the sedans of tomorrow.

Local environmental advocate Kelly Meyer has teamed with inventors Gene Fein and Ed Merritt to do just that. Their Green Roadway Project envisions a vast green plan deployed along the country’s roadways that would employ solar, wind and geothermal stations to capture clean, renewable energy for supplying electricity grids to neighboring cites. And they are banking on its viability to attract investors in this month’s auction of the project’s licensing portfolio.

“Imagine filling up your tank at an electric recharging station along Route 66,” Meyer said at a recent press conference that unveiled examples of the roadway solar panel units. “Then imagine our children traveling our nation’s highways, generating kilowatts of energy with each passing mile. This is how we can meet our responsibility to leave the world better than how we found it.”

Meyer, who is on the Leadership Council for the National Resources Defense Council and was a partner in building the first LEED Platinum home in California, met Fein at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, where their children attend classes together. They were instrumental in helping the public school become the first in California to install solar panels to generate its own energy.

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Fein and Merritt have more than 150 patents filed on digital technologies, for everything from water distribution plans to methods of handling new data more efficiently. About five years ago, they started working on a portfolio of inventions designed to innovate clean energy gathering and distribution.

The idea was to provide a shovel-ready platform to complement “smart grid” technologies and take advantage of incentives offered by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Obama’s signature piece of legislation makes available $27 billion for roadway related infrastructure and $4 billion for smart grid technology. The Green Roadway team figures that tax incentives, grants and other programs could ultimately cover 80 percent of the original investment in the project. With state and federal mandates for cities to purchase renewable energy expanding, investors should see quick and long-lasting returns.

“Solar rooftop paneling is a great incremental step in moving to an energy policy based on renewable resources,” Fein said in an interview with The Malibu Times at Meyer’s coastal Malibu home. “But putting wind and solar gathering stations along highways and railways creates a long, narrow footprint that takes the onus off the individual so the project can be more cohesive. This way, use of available space is more easily distributed.”

Fein’s and Merritt’s licensing plan will be offered at auction July 24 through Ocean Tomo, LLC, a firm specializing in intellectual property investment. They expect states, municipalities, utilities companies and venture capitalists to participate in the sealed bid auction and have already received high international interest in the project.

“With over 8.5 million miles of roadway across the nation, The Green Roadway has a massive distribution footprint,” Fein said in explaining the logistics of the plan. “The project, on a national scale, will put thousands of people to work and will require ongoing maintenance. It effectively creates a workforce that doesn’t exist right now.”

Such “green collar” jobs are attractive to states suffering high unemployment rates, such as California. And while there is plenty of space available in the “sunshine” states of the Southwest for solar panel electricity farms, some residents are not keen on their pristine desert vistas being polluted with transformer lines to connect the energy to distribution centers. Locating transformer lines along national highway and railway routes obviates this problem.

Jim Conkle is the chairman of the Route 66 Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the historic roadway. He says Route 66 and a smart energy grid are a natural symbiosis.

“The future is an electric highway,” Conkle said. “Energy stations along Route 66 will keep electric motorists powered and feeding the grid at the same time.”

Fein explained that the compact solar, wind and geothermal stations that would line the roadways will be able to store energy in battery packs and will be mounted in different configurations to maximize their utility, depending on different roadway specifications. Passing vehicles, as well as atmospheric conditions, literally create wind tunnels that will generate electricity.

“For someplace like Malibu, along PCH, panels would be mounted at different heights,” Fein explained. “Both ocean and mountain elements would influence how energy is generated and captured.”

Meyer and Fein said that The Green Roadway has factored legislative and market imperatives into the project. “With cap and trade becoming inevitable, there will be a whole set of companies needing carbon offsets,” Fein said. “With thousands of miles of roadways to power up, they’ll have the chance to buy those offsets.”

“All the laws that support a transition to green energy are part of the project,” Meyer said, likening investors in the project to early 20th century oil wildcatters. “It might seem cumbersome to get the whole project up and running with permitting and so forth, but CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are looming and energy companies need to get ready for the plunge.”

“Actually, for a fraction of what oil companies spend on exploration, they could invest in The Green Roadway Project,” Fein added. “Once the infrastructure is in place, the energy generated comes from free, constantly renewing sources.”

Meyer sees the project as another way of helping America reduce its reliance on foreign oil and, ultimately, its fiscal deficit.

“Even if you think global warming is some kind of hoax, renewable energy will improve the quality of our air and water,” she said. “And ultimately, we want to leave a cleaner planet-and legacy-for our kids.”

More information on The Green Roadway Project can be found online at www.thegreenroadway.com

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