Roads help us get from one place to another, but innovator Sten de Wit thinks that roads could – and should – also generate electricity.

de Wit: “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could harvest the solar energy that hits our roads?”

SolaRoad assembly

de Wit, of the Netherlands Research Institute TNO, says a solar system in a road presents many challenges.

de Wit: “It has to be durable and strong. It has to be skid resistant. It has to be dirt repellent because we want also it to be transparent enough to make sure that the sunlight hits the solar cells beneath the top layer.”

For the pilot project, TNO selected a bike path in North Holland that averages two thousand cyclists every day as well as occasional service and emergency vehicles.

The team installed panels in a short section of the bike path, which are now generating enough electricity to power two to three Dutch households, making the pilot test a success.

Still, the road to commercial viability is not yet clear. De Wit says the next step is to make the design less expensive and commercially viable.

If scaled up, however, this technology could someday generate the power needed for roads to de-ice themselves or even feed electricity into the grid.

SolaRoad in use

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Jill Gorey.
Top Photo: The solar cells are located between two sheets of tempered glass in a concrete housing. Bottom Photo: The coating on the road surface looks very similar to a regular road. (Source: SolaRoad Netherlands more info).

*Editor’s Note: TNO is involved in this project via a public-private partnership including the province of Noord-HGolland and two business partners — Ooms Civiel and Imtech.

More Resources
SolaRoad website (SolaRoad is a project of TNO, Provence of Noord-Holland, Imtech Traffic&Infra and Ooms Civiel.)
World’s first solar cycle lane opening in the Netherlands
Dutch solar bike path produces more electricity than expected (CleanTechnica)
The first solar bike path is producing more energy than expected (Engadget)

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...