BY: SINEAD MULHERN
Solar powered bike lanes are here. Are we really surprised that the first one is located in the Netherlands?
The lane, named SolaRoad, is located in the Amsterdam suburb, Krommenie. Right now, 70 metres of an existing lane is decked out in solar panels that are buried underneath a centimetre-thick slab of dirt-repellent glass. The glass is well able to stand up to conditions on the heavily trafficked lane that sees 2,000 cyclists per day— it’s skid resistant, can accommodate the shock of falling objects and can handle weights as heavy as a single truck. Regular thermal tests are conducted on the materials to make sure that they can also stand up to extreme hot and cold weather.
The only downfall right now, is that since the panels have to lie flat, they are 30 percent less efficient than other solar panels which are typically angled towards the sun.
It’s a small price to pay though. The energy produced goes towards supporting street lighting, traffic systems and energy expended by nearby households.
This $3.7 million project was a group effort funded by researchers, the government and Dutch industries. The concept of the road was born in 2009 and presented at TNO (a Dutch non-profit agency that focuses on science and trechnology), where big thinkers pondered the potentials of harnessing the energy that hits 450 square kilometres of Dutch roads each day.
The province of Noord-Holland, tech service provider, Imtech, and road construction company, Ooms Civiel, are all collaborators on the project. In a part of the world where the bicycle count is higher than the population itself (there are 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands), garnering government and public support was natural.
And they’re not putting the brakes on anytime soon. By 2016, SolaRoad will be extended to a full 100 metres.
Rooftop solar panels are more the norm for converting the sun’s energy into electricity. So why bike paths and not more roof tops? If every single Dutch rooftop was outfitted in solar panels, 25 percent of electrical demand could be generated. By comparison though, Dutch roadways make up a significantly larger surface area and if all roads could be equipped with panels, energy would be surplus. It’s about using all the available surfaces that absorb the sun’s rays to benefit communities through a method as consistent and natural as the daily sunrise.
Researchers studying the potentials of the lane hope that the energy produced can eventually be used to power electric cars. This is a perfect instance of innovation and stewardship moving in parallel.
Eventually this could be applied to highways as well as cycle paths. For now though, bike paths are easier to test this pilot project. For one, they are less heavily loaded than main roads or highways. Secondly, it’s easier to make adjustments necessary to refine the idea. Once perfected, who knows where this new energy source could lead us.