The Amsterdam suburbs of Wormerveer and Krommenie are connected by a bike path that draws about 2000 bicyclists each day. The path is two lanes and equally popular with commuters and school kids. In November of 2014, that humble bike path was turned into an energy field - quite literally.
The TNO research institute, the developer of SolaRoad - integrated solar panels that can be installed into roadways or other paths - put flat-lying solar panels into 70 meters of the well-used bike path. The project was funded in large part by the local authority at a price tag of roughly $3.7 million.
The crystalline silicon solar cells are essentially like the ones used on roof and ground-mounted applications, except that they can't be adjusted for maximum sun exposure and they're surrounded with concrete and covered with tempered glass. They do have a very slight tilt as well as a non-adhesive finish in order to help keep dirt washed off of them. This lack of adjustment capability renders the panels about 30% less effective at producing energy.
Researchers at the institute believe that the technology could be expanded and adapted to go into normal roads, potentially powering electric cars, traffic lights, and more. This is not, however, a brand new concept. Julie and Scott Brusaw, two engineers from the United States, have been developing - and fundraising for - their Solar Roadways since 2006.
In 2009, the Brusaws even scored a Federal Highway Administration contract to build their prototype for the solar powered-road. In addition, thanks to their video going viral they have been able to raise over two million dollars to manufacture their design. According to the Brusaws' claims, installation of Solar Roadways across the country could allow the generation of three times the amount of energy currently used by Americans, and slash harmful greenhouse gases by three quarters.
There has been considerable criticism of the Netherlands bike path project, in large part due to the financial aspect. While the path has performed better than expected in the first several months of operation, producing 3000 kWh of energy over the first six months, Breaking Energy points out that for the steep $3.7 million price tag, Amsterdam could have purchased standard solar setups that would generate 520,000 kWh in the same amount of time.
They have a point. They also have some other good ideas, like using the fact that funding could be used to build a canopy over the path - which would be adjustable and therefore would generate more clean energy.
But perhaps the real point is that no progress is made without these innovative projects. In the 1980s we first started hearing about "video phones"; it was very exciting to imagine that being a reality in consumer homes some day. That manifestation of the technology was prohibitively expensive, didn't function as well as we hoped, and ended up fizzling out. However, we do now have the ability to talk with video image to anyone, anywhere in the world via Skype. Solar bike paths may not stick, so to speak, but they may well lead to technology that does - and that's worth a few million.
Breaking Energy, www.breakingenergy.com/2015/05/13/solaroad-performs-better-than-expected-remains-pointless/
Clean Technica, www.cleantechnica.com/2015/05/29/dutch-solar-bike-path-pleases-many/
The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/05/worlds-first-solar-cycle-lane-opening-in-the-netherlands