Solar Roads, Paving the Way to a Green Future

In November 2014, the Dutch province of Nord, Holland in partnership with the private engineering firms Ooms Civiel, TNO and Imtech launched a pilot solar roadway project.  The concept behind a solar roadway is to build a fully functioning road that is able to handle normal traffic and fit that road with solar panels that generate electricity.

The public-private partnership in Nood Holland used a 70-meter bike path for its pilot project. It is a 3-year, $3.5 million Euros project. The solar bike road is made of concrete slabs embedded with solar panels. The solar panels are protected by a centimeter thick layer of transparent, skid resistant tempered safety glass that is able to support bicycles.

The project has had a very successful first sixth months. The yield from the solar panels has been better than expected; yield was an early concern because flat solar panels have a lower yield than angled panels. For the past six months the roadway has yielded 3,000 kWh and is projected to yield 70 kWh per square meter per year. This would be enough to power a single person household for a year. Over the six months of the project, more than 150,000 cyclists have used the road but hardly noticed anything different.

Thus far the only unforeseen problem has been the durability of the glass coating. The coating peels off when there is a drastic change of weather, and so needs to be replaced. They are working on creating a better coating.

The US state of Idaho could launch its own solar roadway project soon. The project was successfully funded through Indigo and is still in its research phase.

Solar roadways offer an exciting solution for a greener future. The solar roadways are an efficient use of space because roadways can be used for more than just carrying traffic but also generating electricity. Solar roadways could also be useful in lighting roads that are in sparse areas like country sides or in-between cities. Another possibility is that solar roadways can be used to power electric cars while they use the solar roads.

A clear hurdle is the durability and maintenance of solar roads. Solar roads must be able to carry vehicular traffic if it is to be widespread, so the roads must be built to handle large trucks. Finding a material that can handle such strains could be difficult so in the meantime cities could easily redirect heavy vehicles, which is already common in some cities.

Extreme weather patterns and excessive use will test the durability of the solar panel coating material. Although this is a valid concern, it shouldn't be a huge problem; mankind has solved bigger problems.

As with all forms of renewable energy, cost is a huge concern for solar roads. Paying 3.5 million euros for a 70-meter stretch of road is not economical. As this is a new technology, the cost curve should decrease as the technology gets better. Solar roads also have the advantage of being multi-functional and that will be good for future cost-to-benefit analysis held in the future.

While the technology is being developed for larger scale applications you could expect to see it in small constructs like bike pathways. A further use for solar roadways could be on home driveways, footpaths, or even sidewalks.



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