Integrating solar panels into roads and crash barriers are solutions for the production of large-scale and invisible solar energy without the need for additional space. The idea is therefore to give as much of the existing surface area as possible, such as roofs, building façades and roads, a second function as a source of renewable energy.

Huge potential road network

Our road network covers some 140,000 kilometres, a significant proportion of which can be equipped with this solar cell technology. One third of our road network can produce enough energy to power nine million electric cars. As a prelude to large-scale application, road authorities are keen to gain experience in the management, maintenance and, in the future, tendering of solar panel roads.

Solar panels in cycle paths

Ten years ago, TNO started the SolaRoad project, testing solar panels in cycle paths. This was successful and, after further innovations, has now come so far that the longest solar cycle path in the world has been opened in Maartensdijk in July 2021.

The world's longest solar bike path between the cities of Utrecht and Hilversum. [photo by: Norbert Waalboer]

Solar cells in road surfaces

Solar cells in the road surface: it is quite a challenge. As roads are heavily loaded, this demands a lot from the robustness of the material. Following successful application in cycle paths partners, partners developed a project a project with solar cells in road surfaces. The idea was to incorporate a SolaRoad surface in roads used by heavy traffic, such as buses and trucks. After the first project on a highway appeared that the SolaRoad technology needed further development for heavy traffic.

Various technologies

Within the Rolling Solar project this development will be undertaken. Two sections of road will incorporate solar cells, one with traditional crystalline silicon technology and the second based on thin film (CIGS). At Brightlands Chemelot Campus, the project team has started the construction of a SolaRoad surface based on crystalline silicon solar cells. Experts are testing on temperature profiles, electricity production and robustness.

Solar road surface at the Brightlands Chemelot campus in Geleen [Photo by: Jonathan Vos]

At the same time, a second pilot takes place with thin-film solar cells in a section of the road. In principle, these are easier and cheaper to integrate into new prefab and existing road surfaces than traditional technology. The thin-film road sections have been installed in August 2021 and will be tested. First results of these tests are expected to be available in 2022.

Solar panels on the crash barrier

How solar panels are installed on the crash barrier

Together with the Province of Noord-Holland and various partners, TNO has carried out research into the safe and sustainable generation of energy by means of flexible solar foil on crash barriers. With some 7,500 kilometres of crash barriers in the Netherlands, there is potential to generate a lot of solar energy.

The pilot, using flexible solar foil on a 72-metre section of dual crash barrier, was carried out along the N194 near Heerhugowaard for a year. The design is the first of its kind in the world. The one-year trial completed in 2020 shows that the pilot continued to perform well in various weather conditions. In order to be able to generate energy profitably and sustainably with an integrated system, costs need to be further reduced and components need further development. Read the full report here (in Dutch).

More info about solar energy in road surfaces and crash barriers?

Contact Corry de Keizer

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