The Netherlands is opening up the world’s first stretch of road made with solar cells this week. And in keeping with the road’s environmentally-friendly message — and the cycling culture of the Netherlands — the road is built for bikes, not cars.
The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research and the Dutch province of North Holland will open a 230-foot stretch of the project, dubbed SolaRoad, on November 12. The stretch of bike lane contains solar cells that are protected by two layers of safety glass and which can generate enough energy to power about three Dutch homes.
That might not seem like much, but the project’s creators are viewing this initial stretch of road as a test — if all goes well, they hope to further test SolaRoads on small roadways and in bike lanes. Over the next three years, researchers will be conducting tests and measurements to determine how much energy the road produces and how it holds up to an onslaught of daily bike commuters. They also hope to extend this initial SolaRoad to 328 feet by 2016.
In general, solar roads don’t produce as much electricity as solar panels do because they can’t be tilted to maximize their exposure to the sun. But unlike solar farms, solar roads don’t require large tracts of land, and they can be located near heavily-populated areas.
The stretch of bike lane connects the Amsterdam suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer and is expected to be used by about 2,000 cyclists each day. It’s part of the Netherlands’ overall efforts to scale up its use of renewable energy, a sector in which the Netherlands hasn’t been as successful as some other E.U. countries. The country recently began planning for a 48-turbine wind farm that is expected to be completed by 2016 and will generate enough electricity to power about 160,000 households. The wind farm will contribute to a Dutch goal of having 6,000 megawatts of onshore wind constructed by 2020. One town in the Netherlands is also harnessing the power of the ocean to provide heat to its residents.
But the Netherlands isn’t the only country to begin looking seriously into solar roads. In the U.S., one couple’s Solar Roadways Indiegogo campaign has raised more than $2 million. The campaign aims to replace traditional asphalt roadways with solar roads similar to the one in the Netherlands, with solar panels encased in strong glass that’s designed to withstand heavy cars and trucks. The couple estimates that if every roadway in the U.S. were replaced by a solar road, the roads could cut the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent.
That full-scale replacement of traditional roads isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, but in the mean time, the Netherlands’ project is a small step forward for the future of solar roads.