Posted on January 6th, 2015

Outside the Box – Solar Roads

The Netherlands is known for many things: its canals, world-class soccer, the Anne Frank museum, the tulip gardens, their liberal outlook on many social topics and much more. What they may come to be best known for soon enough is their adoption of solar roads. Recently, an Amsterdam suburb, Krommenie, became the first city to have solar bike pathways installed. Less than 75 yards in length, the test pavement is comprised of a number of blocks linked together which inside have rows of solar cells. The current construction has the added benefit of capturing power generated from cyclists; enough to power three homes. And while the project has been very expensive to date, coming in at just under $4 million, there is hope that as construction techniques and associated technologies develop, the price will drop. The Netherlands has nearly 22,000 miles of bike paths, so if they could all be constructed efficiently, the energy generated could make enormous waves in the green energy industry.

Perhaps this covered roadway in Amsterdam can house solar panels that collect energy from the vehicles that pass under it in the future, coupled with the solar roadways that are starting to appear in the city. 50-cm color image captured by WorldView-2 on August 27, 2014 and comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.
The Singel Canal in Amsterdam dates back to the Middle Ages. Until the late 16th Century, it acted as the formal edge of the city. The canals have always been a major means of passage, and depending on your method of boating, sometimes the most green option. Now, though, the city has its solar roadways project, and we might see an evolution of alternative energy. 50-cm color image captured by WorldView-2 on August 27, 2014 and comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

But speculation abounds. There are many questions that come along with this technology, cost certainly, but safety and durability as well. Can solar roads be used for automobile traffic? How much more time and expense would go into that research? In 2009, an Idaho couple, the Brusaws, earned a US Department of Transportation grant to explore the potential of solar roadways through their company, aptly called, Solar Roadways. In 2010, the Brusaws built a prototype, and started to receive recognition – and much needed further funding – from a number of agencies and organizations. GE invested, and then the US DOT strengthened their commitment with a $750,000 pledge to start building a solar parking lot. Then right alongside every aspiring movie maker and entrepreneur, the Brusaws started an indiegogo crowd sourcing campaign that generated over $2 million dollars. Investment in the idea was abound.

Safety concerns still exist however. Their prototype is made from textured glass, a surface that can be slippery, and potentially fragile to large vehicles and with high usage. Current tests and simulations show that the road allows a vehicle going 80 mph to stop within the required distance. And computer simulation indicated that it can support the necessary loads of large freighters. But the project is still in the embryonic stages. Much more time and ‘energy’ need to be invested to ensure its safety and reliability. However, the progress to date has stimulated other forward-thinking individuals to get into the solar road game as well.

Indeed there is still a ways to go until solar roads and paths are as accessible and efficient as the world would need. But the concerns associated with continued reliance on fossil fuels have spurred a number of investments in alternative and green energy. With commitment from progressive nations like The Netherlands and entrepreneurs like the Brusaws, every day more and more projects with outstanding potential are dreamt up and brought to life. Eventually going for a bike ride will not only be good for your body and our air, but maybe even for your pocketbook.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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