The Netherlands has an international reputation as a bike-friendly nation; it’s home to some 18 million bicycles and 21,748 miles of bike lanes. Now, an innovative project—SolaRoad—aims to make even greater use of all that green infrastructure by paving the bike paths with solar cells. On November 12, 2014, the first such path will open: a 70-meter (230 feet) stretch of Krommenie’s bike path will become the first solar-paved right of way in the world.
SolaRoad has been in the works since 2009, and is the brainchild of Dutch research institute TNO. The power-generating pavers are created by embedding crystalline silicon solar cells in 8.2 x 11.5 ft concrete slabs, before covering them in a one-centimeter layer of tempered glass. Then, reports the Guardian, a “non-adhesive finish and a slight tilt are [added] to help the rain wash off dirt and thus keep the surface clean, guaranteeing maximum exposure to sunlight.”
These extra steps are pretty important—the flat surface required for transit isn’t exactly ideal for capturing sunlight for power generation. In bike path form the cells are 30 percent less efficient than they would be placed within a standard solar installation. As a result, when this first test strip is extended to its full 100 meters (328 feet) in 2016, it will provide about enough electricity to power three households.
But it does make practical use of an untapped surface area, and there’s plenty of roads available for transformation. Indeed, TNO is not limiting their ambitions to bike paths; the institute estimates that up to 20 percent of the Netherlands’ 140,000km of road could potentially be adapted into SolaRoads, which would amount to an additional 400 to 500 km sq (154 to 193 mi sq) of energy-generating PV which could be fed into the grid, or used to power signage and traffic lights.