Can We Pave Our Way to Sustainable Energy?

SolaRoad has created a solar cell pavement bike path that generates solar energy.

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People using the prototype solar bike path by foot and bike.

Photo courtesy of SolaRoad

A year ago, with the help of the company SolaRoad, Amsterdam designed a prototype bike path that generates solar power just outside of Krommenie, a city in the province of North Holland. Co-Exist recently reported on its success thus far.

The application of rooftop solar panels is growing rapidly, but eventually available real estate on roofs will be hard to come by. SolaRoad – developed by TNO, the province of Noord-Holland, Ooms Civiel, and Imtech – is now exploring the possibility of using pavement as a viably source of solar enegery. In the Netherlands (and in much of the world) there is more space on roads than all of the rooftops combined.

The solar road consists of 70 meters of specially-designed solar panels, approximately 2 x 3 meters each, with a translucent top layer of glass. Underneath the layer of glass are crystalline silicon solar cells.

While the prototype road was only paved a year ago, it is generating more power than the lab had predicted. Early lab testing took into account the effect of pollution, barrier shade from cyclists, as well as other elements that are difficult to asses in lab. As it turned out, their estimates were far lower than the result – after half a year of testing the road generated over 3,000 Kilowatts; after a year of testing, the road is generating 70 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. This is enough energy to power three typical Dutch houses. The potential applications of this technology are numerous; the energy generated from the pavement could power streetlamps, electric cars, or simply be returned to the local power grid.

The solar bike path looks and feels very similar to a normal bike path, to the degree that most people don’t even notice the difference. However, the developers at SolaRoad would like to take the technology beyond bike paths, and eventually be able to develop a solar pavement  that is large enough for road usage, but strong and skid resistant enough for automobile traffic and highway driving. At the same time, the surface of the panels needs to remain translucent enough to absorb sunlight and repel dirt.

The application of solar cell pavement of highways and streets would be the ultimate application as these roads have the largest surface area. If SolaRoad can find a way to safely incorporate the panels in this way, this surface space will become the largest decentralized solar energy generation – and it would be incorporated into roads which we build and use regardless.

However, the technology is expected to be pricey. The SolaRoad team does not yet know what the final cost will be; that said, they are aiming for it to pay for itself over around fifteen years in generated energy. Ultimately the hope is that the solar-paved road could eventually be cheaper than asphalt or concrete.

If the findings of the prototype road are any indication of positive possibility, then SolaRoad may have just offered a seriously optimistic option for our future energy sources, and a great use of road space.

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