Julian Spector is a former editorial fellow at CityLab, where he covers climate change, energy, and clean tech.
SolaRoad has operated for a year and produced more power than expected.
A year ago the Dutch town of Krommenie made bicycling even greener by opening a bike path composed of solar panels. This had never been done before, so it was anyone’s guess whether it would succeed as either a path or an energy source. Now the results are in, and they’re not too shabby.
The solar bike path has generated 9,800 kilowatt-hours of energy, according to an update posted on the project’s website. That’s enough to power three households for a year. What’s even more impressive is that, as SolaRoad’s Sten de Wit explained to Fast Company, the results exceeded what the creators were expecting: Their lab assessments of how things like pollution and shade from people using the paths would affect the solar generation led them to underestimate the output.
The success of this pilot lends credence to a broader movement to build infrastructure that promotes a more sustainable society. Since we already need roads to get around, why not also draw some energy from them? That same goal motivated the Idaho-based inventors behind the similarly named Solar Roadways, who are working on parking lots and streets made of modular solar panels, not to mention the U.K. government’s tests of highways that can recharge electric vehicles as they drive.
It’s worth noting that the price tag, originally estimated at $3.7 million, makes SolaRoad an expensive way to get a small amount of electricity. But as a proof of concept the news is reassuring: this isn’t some harebrained scheme, but a practical way to produce nontrivial amounts of power. And whereas most roads cost more over the years as they require maintenance for wear and tear, solar roads pay off their costs simply by existing.