The Dutch are pleased with their solar bike path

Six months ago, the town of Krommenie in the Netherlands installed the world’s first solar bicycle path, which harvests energy from the s...

Six months ago, the town of Krommenie in the Netherlands installed the world’s first solar bicycle path, which harvests energy from the sunlight that falls on it. Sure, it was just a 230 feet-long path, but the SolaRoad project helmed by Netherland’s TNO Research Institute is intended as a proof-of-concept pilot to test the feasibility of such installations on public pathways. Half a year has passed, and the Dutch engineers claim that the solar path has exceeded performance expectations – the green trail produced over 3,000 kWh of energy since it was installed, which is about the amount of electricity used by a single occupancy home for the span of an entire year.

The innovative solar path is made from affordable, mass-produced silicon solar cells that are sandwiched between concrete and a layer of tempered glass to allow sunlight through. The panels are connected to the grid and smart meters to optimize output or direct electricity to street lighting. The current design has only had to cope with the light load of cyclists in this test, but it is actually able to withstand the heft of a 12 tonne truck, the intention being to install the solar cells on public roads traversed by everyday traffic. Encouraged by the results, SolaRoad plans to extend the path a further 100 feet, which should generate enough power for three houses, according to its calculations. 

From Netherlands, we cross the Atlantic Ocean to the nation that is the second highest producer of CO2, aka the United States of America. Here, a start-up called Solar Roadways is also developing its own solar road surface. The hexagonal solar panels are embedded with heating elements and LED lights that could melt snow and ice in winter, and light the roads in dim and dark conditions. Solar Roadways currently has its prototype installed in a parking lot to test for load capacity, traction and impact resistance, and is crowdsourcing funds to continue development of its product.

Practical AND pretty
No more shoveling snow. Hurrah!
While we always welcome and laud progress in the field of renewable non-polluting energy, development in that area is still nowhere near viable for widespread adoption. Firstly, the cost of SolarRoad’s ‘short’ prototype alone was around the vicinity of €3 million, so even if its efficiency has been proven, its cost-effectiveness has been proven not; although it sounds like a brilliant idea to transform ground surfaces into one giant solar harvesting tool (Solar Roadways estimates that there are 31,251 sq. miles of surface in the USA that can be covered with its panels), cells on the ground –which cannot be angled and aligned towards the sun– generate about 30% less energy than those on the roof; of course, there will also be vehicles and pedestrians travelling on top of these panels, which will obstruct the rays of the sun.

It's not as out-of-this world as the Chinese’s plan for a solar-harvesting space station (pun intended) which no one will be trampling all over, that's for sure! However, if you believe Elon Musk, the world doesn't need an earth-orbiting solar station. When introducing the Powerwall earlier this month, Musk said that only a very small collective space on rooftops is required to generate enough solar power to replace fossil-derived energy in the USA (go straight to 2:44):

Guess we'll just have to wait for him to release the patents for his solar harvesting system.


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