The world’s first public solar road, a bike path embedded with solar panels, has opened for business in the Dutch city of Krommenie.
Local authorities isolated a 100-meter section of bike path for SolaRoad, developed by the Netherlands-based TNO research institute. The first 70 meters (230 feet) officially opens to cyclists on November 12. The road is part of a three-year pilot project to create pavement that might one day power electric cars via wireless energy transfer, the BBC reports. According to the Guardian, the research institute believes 20 percent of Dutch roads are suited for solar cell adaptation. Existing SolaRoad technology has proven capable of supporting vehicles as heavy as tractors.
One lane of the SolaRoad path consists of rectangular silicon solar panels sheathed in one-inch-thick tempered glass; the other lane serves as testing grounds for improved versions of the glass top layer. The SolaRoad project is expected to cost $3.7 million, of which $1.8 million has already been invested.
Once the 100 meters of path are complete, SolaRoad is expected to generate enough energy to power three homes—but the design is inherently substandard. The path’s panels are slightly angled to clear dirt and water that might keep sunlight from reaching the cells but are 30 percent less efficient than roof panels angled for maximum sun exposure.
According to the SolaRoad website, developing the technology first in bike paths instead of highways allows researchers better (and safer) access to sensors that monitor panel output. They also can more easily make panel adjustments and switch in new materials than in a highway environment. “In addition,” the consortium writes, “a cycle path is a typically Dutch product.”