World’s First Solar Bike Path Could Power Surrounding Neighborhoods #Solar Power


Netherland’s new bike path doubles as a solar energy generator that could power the surrounding neighborhoods. via fast coexist

When cities run out of space for solar panels on rooftops, one of the next places to turn could be roads—or bike paths. In the Netherlands, one of the country’s newest bike paths doubles as a solar energy generator that could eventually help power surrounding neighborhoods.

“In the Netherlands, we have about 140,000 kilometers of roads—enough to go three times around the world, and more. It’s a huge area, more than all of the rooftops combined,” explains Sten de Wit from TNO, the research organization that helped create the new bike path.

“We already put solar panels on rooftops, and this is a process that is going faster and faster,” he says. “But if we look at the goals we have for sustainable energy production we need more area than just rooftops. If we can put panels in a road which is there anyway—then we can get that function and lots of green energy without disturbing the landscape or taking extra space.”

The World s First Solar Bike Path Keeps Bikers Safe Powers Surrounding Neighborhoods Co Exist ideas impact

TNO worked with engineers and local government to develop a paving system, called SolaRoad, that could generate power while still holding up to traffic. “If you put a normal solar panel on the road, you’d have two main issues—one would be that it’s slippery especially when wet, and two, it would probably break very quickly,” de Wit says. “Those were the two main challenges we had to solve. It also had to be transparent enough that light could reach the solar cells.”

The new bike path is a pilot, and the researchers will use it to gather all kinds of information, including how much energy this type of road can generate. “Based on what we’ve done in the lab, we think the energy gain will be between 50-70 kilowatt hours per square meter per year,” de Wit explains. A typical Dutch household could be entirely powered by about 50 square meters of roadway.

The pilot path will mostly handle bike traffic, but also the occasional car, and the researchers plan to keep developing the technology for use on regular roads (in a similar way to the U.S.-based Solar Roadways project, which claims that solar roads could power the entire United States).

They also hope to take the technology beyond the Netherlands. “The Netherlands is not the most sunny country in the world,” says de Wit. “So if we go further south, it’s very likely that this product will be at least as interesting there as it is here.”

The technology isn’t cheap—the pilot bike path cost $3.75 million dollars for a narrow stretch of only 230 feet. But as the development progresses, the cost is expected to come down. And since it generates power, it can slowly start to pay for itself.

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  1. Great article, however it is worth noting that the renewable industry is generally against this idea. Solar Roadways (or bike paths) cannot be angled toward the sun, are subject to wear and abrasion on the glass, are likely to be covered by dirt, dust ice and vehicles, and need to be replaced much, much faster than a standard road or bike path.

    This $3.7M project will power three households. That same $3.7M could have powered three THOUSAND households if it had been spent on rooftop solar. (though though you don’t know what a standard bike path would have cost, so lets say fifteen hundred households of rooftop solar, and a $1.8M bike path) and both write that it would have been smarter to build a roof over the bike path that was angled toward the sun, and fill it with solar panels.

  2. Dave Jones talked about this last month.

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro renewable energy, but this is one of the stupidest ideas I ever heard of!
    The power output is extremely bad due to the missing inclination, the soiling, the thickness and anti-slip surface of the top glass. At the same time, the whole system has very high production, installation, maintenance and repair costs.
    The amortisation of a solarpark is currently in the range of 8-10 years. But this road will never pay-off!

  4. As much as I’m familiar with energy efficient homes in the Netherlands I would love to see someone try to live on an average of 285-400W total for the whole house. It’s certainly possible, I’ve camped in the wilderness on less after all, but it’s *far* below a typical household electricity usage. Even tropical Mexico and Brazil don’t average such low energy usage per house.

  5. A quick run of the numbers finds about an 1100 yr pay-back time at the current price of electricity in the Netherlands (~$0.23/kW-hr). Even if the cost dropped by 99% (or you could find true believers willing to pay $23/kw-hr) the pay-back time is still 11 yr, and that is not counting any maintenance or replacement costs. So while the idea is nice, I seriously doubt that any "neighborhoods" will be powered in such a fashion any time in the near future.

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