It’s not often that a Dutch cycle path hits the news headlines, but this month saw the official opening of the world’s first solar-paved public right of way, which is located in the suburbs of Amsterdam.
On 12 November, Minister Kamp, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs officially opened the SolaRoad cycle path by taking an inaugural ride on an e-bike, alongside Elisabeth Post of the North Holland Provincial Executive.
SolaRoad will effectively transform a section of a popular cycle path between Krommenie and Wormerveer into a giant solar panel. The electrical energy generated by the SolaRoad cycle path will be supplied directly to the electricity grid. Overall, the 100-metre long path will generate enough electricity to supply around three average households annually.
‘This could be a breakthrough in the field of sustainable energy supply. In particular, if the road concept will develop into a system, with which the generated electricity is transported to the vehicles driving on the road. Try to imagine that power will then be generated at the place where it is needed. Subsequently, a big step towards an energy-neutral mobility system will be possible.’ Sten de Wit, TNO
The idea for SolaRoad was initially conceived in 2009 at TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research) and has been developed in collaboration with the Province of North-Holland local authority, road construction company Ooms Civiel, and technical service provider Imtech Traffic & Infra.
Since then, the SolaRoad design has been refined through feasibility studies, prototyping and testing. The SolaRoad cycle path at Krommenie will now serve as a test project for the next 3 years.
The SolaRoad solar panels have been developed as pre-fabricated slabs that can be transported and slotted into place on site.
Each 2.5 by 3.5 metre concrete panel has a top layer of thick tempered glass. This allows sunshine to penetrate through to the crystalline silicon solar cells embedded inside. Sunlight falling on the panels will be absorbed by the solar cells and converted into electricity.
Design of the glass panels has presented one of the toughest design challenges for the project.
The top layer needs to be translucent and at the same time strong and safe. In tests, the current panel design has been able to withstand the weight of heavy vehicles such as tractors. The surface needs to provide a safe grip underfoot but also have the ability to repel dirt. So the glass has a skid-resistant coating to ensure that road users have sufficient grip to safely drive and walk on it. A slight tilt designed into the surface, and a non-adhesive finish, help rainwater to wash dirt and dust away.
As a floor-based system, SolaRoad cannot be angled towards the sun, so it is currently 30% less energy efficient than roof-mounted solar panels. However, it could have the edge when it comes to future large-scale generation of renewable energy utilising sunlight.
Even in a best case scenario, roof-mounted solar panels could only supply approximately 25% of the Dutch electricity demand. In order to reach a larger share of solar energy, a larger surface area of solar panels is required. SolaRoad could potentially harvest energy from the sunlight that falls every day on the 450 km2 of available road surface in The Netherlands.
SolaRoad’s vision for the future is a world where solar road networks supply power to homes, street lighting and traffic lights.
It could also potentially provide a system for wireless energy transfer to electric vehicles. Generating energy at the place where it is needed would be a major step towards an energy-neutral mobility system.
The next steps in the development and scaling up of SolaRoad will be pilot applications provided in municipal roads and in specific applications such as bus lines. This will provide the opportunity to explore whether different functions can be integrated into the road surface. For example, information gathering sensors to help improve traffic management, or embedded LEDs to create variable traffic signage.
- The SolaRoad website contains further details about the pilot project, as well as full technical specifications for the SolaRoad panels.
- Get the latest SolaRoad news and updates via Twitter >
- You can follow SolaRoad’s progress on Facebook >
Image credits: SolaRoad, TNO
SolaRoad features in the November 2014 edition of Rhine Capital Partners monthly investment updates.
- On 28th November 2014