For a long time, it has been technically possible to install solar cells in noise barriers, but the cost of doing so is high while efficiency is relatively low. TNO has now succeeded in devising and building a structure that optimally combines the functions of blocking noise and generating energy.

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The world-first is Solar Highways: a 400-metre-long, five-metre-high noise barrier which incorporates 1,600 square metres of solar panels along the motorway. The solar cells convert sunlight into electricity on both sides, giving the barrier a dual function: in addition to repelling noise, it also produces energy. TNO achieved this innovation on behalf of and in collaboration with Rijkswaterstaat. Heijmans Infra built the barrier. The technical feasibility of integrating bifacial solar cells into noise barriers and their applicability along motorways has been researched and proven.

Cooperation with industry

Solar Highways is an example of successful cooperation with government, knowledge institutions and industry. TNO developed the prototype of the solar panels in the barrier, connecting research with practice in the process. This project also used the method to capture sunlight at the back of solar cells and convert it into electricity. This provides a range of new possibilities in combination with vertical installation. In addition to noise barriers, solar panels can also be used in combination with crops or vegetation because in this position, they take up hardly any space and keep other activities possible.

Thin and flexible solar cell materials

32 parties based in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany within the Interreg Rolling Solar project are working on the innovative integration of thin and flexible solar cell materials into road surfaces and noise barriers, the reduction of costs and the development of guidelines for safe and sustainable integration. The first demonstrations of innovative noise barriers with the integration of thin-film solar panels have been realised in Rosmalen and Genk and will be monitored over the coming period.

Various solar cell technologies

In the SONOB project, various solar cell technologies were integrated into noise barriers and tested alongside project partners. The test was done with two types of solar cells based on silicon and two based on LSC (luminescent solar concentrator). The barriers were also tested for their resistance to vandalism and graffiti.

Solar panels on track-side noise barriers

In addition to trials with the integration of solar cells in noise barriers along the motorway, TNO is also performing tests with barriers along railway tracks. This is being carried out in collaboration with ProRail, which has the potential for 500 to 700 kilometres of noise barriers for the generation of sustainable energy.

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