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Solar Panel Path Gets a Sunny Start

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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KROMMENIE, THE NETHERLANDS—A pioneering energy-harvesting road is reaping better-than-expected power yields for its Dutch developers, the team says.

The 70-meter-long route, called SolaRoad, is the first electricity-generating road of its kind, its developers say. Essentially, the road surface acts as a solar panel.

More than 150,000 cyclists have traveled the North Holland path since it opened in November, producing an energy yield "beyond expectation," the team reports.


Solar cells are fitted under a centimeter-thick tempered glass in one lane and covered by a transparent, skid-resistant coating. No solar cells are embedded in the other lane, which is used to test various coatings.

"We did not expect a yield as high as this so quickly," said Sten de Wit, SolaRoad spokesman and a senior advisor at engineering firm TNO, one of the project principals.

A "golden triangle" of industry, research institutions and government has been collaborating on SolaRoad since 2009. Other partners are the Province of Noord-Holland (North Holland), Ooms Civiel and Imtech.

'Upper Limit' Prediction

De Wit says the road has generated more than 3,000 kWh since it opened. "This can provide a single-person household with electricity for a year, or power an electric scooter to drive 2.5 times around the world," he said.

Annualized, de Wit said, "we expect more than the 70 KWh per square meter per year, which we predicted as an upper limit in the laboratory stage."


TNO innovator Sten de Wit says the project is supported by a collaborative "golden triangle" of industry, research and government institutions. TNO is a principal partner.

The test road consists of concrete modules 2.5 to 3.5 meters long with a top layer of tempered glass. 

In one lane, solar cells are fitted under a tempered glass about one centimeter thick and covered by a transparent, skid-resistant coating. No solar cells are embedded in the other lane, which is used to test various coatings.

Solar power from the road is fed into the electricity grid, where it can be used for street lights, traffic systems and households. One day, it may power electric cars that drive over it, the company said.

Delaminated Coatings

SolaRoad is in a three-year pilot that will include measurements and testing to inform future developments.

solar road

A small section of coatings delaminated on two occasions. An improved top layer is in development.

One goal of the field test is to detect and fix any early stage issues. For example, a small section of coating on the road delaminated at the end of December and early in the spring. Research has shown that large temperature fluctuations can cause local delamination due to shrinkage in the coating, the company said.

Repairs were made, and the development of an improved top layer is in an advanced stage.

The team is also constantly pursuing innovations in surface materials and solar panels.

Discussions about additional pilots are taking place with other provinces in the Netherlands, according to the company.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Energy efficiency; Roads/Highways; Site/field testing; Solar; Solar energy; Testing + Evaluation

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/27/2015, 8:39 AM)

"Provide a single household with electricity for a year" - not in the USA. Average household consumption is nearly 12,000 kWh. Other than very specialized applications, it's almost impossible for a solar road to be cost effective compared to standalone solar panels, or roof mounted solar panels, or using the solar panels as a roof over a conventional pathway. Lets run some numbers: effective solar insolation for the Netherlands, with standard south-facing panels is 3kWh/m2/day. 15% panel efficiency, so effective average electricity production of 0.45 kWh/m2/day. 164kWh - more than double the production per square meter of this pathway, with typically much cheaper installation costs. I can get a 5kW system installed on my roof for ~$15,000 without counting tax incentives. Larger installations are cheaper per kW. Commercial solar is about 2/3 the cost of residential (an appropriate comparison for the size of this road) and utility scale is about half the cost of residential. Installed prices for conventional solar are dropping ~10% year-on-year, so the price improvements for solar road need to be absolutely huge and sustained to ever be competitive.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/27/2015, 1:15 PM)

Tom, I certainly agree that conventional systems (esp. here in North America) are more cost effective, but I can also see how this sort of installation would add to the potential generating area without need for independent farms (just like roof systems...make use of existing infrastructure). If the price comes down (don't forget, this solar path is the first of it's kind) and more efficiencies can be garnered from future improvements, it may be more worthwhile. On the flip side, though, we also need to try to get on the conservation wagon too...12MWh / family is a lot of power and far more than what's used in places like Europe. LED bulbs, turning off lights when leaving rooms, using motion sensors(like for outdoor lights), turning off items that don't need to be on all the time and investing a little more in efficient appliances and houses could do wonders to drop that figure. It's rather like our cars... In Europe, a small to mid-sized car with an engine displacement about 2.0 L is pretty it is the 5.0 L, 5.7L or 6.2L engined truck or SUV that seems to rule the roads. Just my observations ;) Mike

Comment from Brian Hierlihy, (5/28/2015, 12:17 PM)

'Cost competitiveness' is a relative measure, but it must be 'apples-to-apples'. Given pending EU conservation goals (and the economic incentives for achievement), it makes little sense to be too rigid in EU-US research comparisons. Perhaps when the US catches up on the conservation side a comparison might be more appropriate.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/29/2015, 9:21 AM)

Mike - Europeans tend to use fuel taxes (and other taxes) to guide car sizing/efficiency - they are MUCH higher than the US, at least in Western Europe. I agree that the USA could go a long way in improving efficiency. Huge, poorly insulated houses are another target.

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