The Netherlands has opened the world’s first solar bicycle path, which will trial the usage of embedded photovoltaic technology in road surfaces to generate electricity to power street and traffic lights as well as local homes.
The 3 million Euro (US$3.7 million) SolaRoad pilot project in the North Holland town of Krommenie consists of a two-lane bike path which will eventually run a distance of hundred metres adjacent to provincial road N203. The first 70 metres have already been completed, with the remaining 30 metres to be added in the near future.
One of the lanes is made from 2.5 by 3.5 metre slabs of concrete embedded with a layer of crystalline silicon solar cells, covered by a protective sheet of tempered safety glass measuring a centimetre in thickness and connected to the grid.
The second lane consists of standard, prefabricated concrete slabs made without solar cells, which will be used as a platform for testing various surface materials.
The locally funded project will run for a trial period of three years, during which researchers will collect data on a variety of factors in order to optimise performance. These will include information and communication technology for improving power distribution during variable weather conditions, the impact of pollution and erosion on the surface layer, and the integration of other forms of solar power technology such as thin-film solar cells.
The success of the project will depend upon the performance of the uppermost layer of the roadway. It must be skid resistant and durable enough to serve as a secure road surface while also possessing sufficient transparency to enable the underlying photovoltaic cells to harvest energy from the sun.
While the SolaRoad's single PV-embedded bike lane will produce around 30 per cent less energy than solar panels currently installed on building rooftops, the pilot project will still generate enough electricity to supply the needs of several standard households.
Given the extensive nature of transportation infrastructure in densely populated industrialised economies, the conversion of road surfaces into renewable energy facilities has the potential to generate copious amounts of electricity even given the existing efficiency lag.
Despite its modest size, the Netherlands alone possesses a total road network of 139,295 kilometres, making it one of the densest in the world in terms of roads per area. On top of this extensive road network, the Netherlands also possesses a further 35,000 kilometres of bicycle lanes which are separated from motorised vehicle roads. The researchers behind SolaRoad are hopeful that as much as 20 per cent of the country's roads could be converted into solar power facilities.
The SolaRoad project is being developed by a public-private consortium including the Province of North Holland, road construction company Oooms Civiel, engineering firm Imtech and independent Dutch research body TNO.