SolaRoad is a road surface that you can not only drive on but that produces renewable energy too. A couple of years ago, this TNO innovation was merely a good idea but now the system is ready for the market - certainly since the SolaRoad Kit has made applications in infrastructure so quick and easy. A SolaRoad Kit in a bike path in France is already supplying electricity for the lighting at a roundabout.
The principle behind SolaRoad is simple. If you replace the asphalt or concrete on a road surface with built-in solar panels, you can use it to generate electricity. It is not quite that easy in practice though, says Sten de Wit, Lead SolaRoad Innovator at TNO: “You must be able to make efficient use of the electricity generated, transport it elsewhere or store it, you must use solar panels that are hard wearing and you must apply a translucent and safe road surface. Cost considerations also naturally play a role in the case of commercial applications in infrastructure.”
Cooperating on a sustainable bike path
SolaRoad has already been tested in a bike path pilot project in Krommenie, Noord-Holland, for almost three years. De Wit: “The results show that we are ready for actual applications. TNO, the province of Noord-Holland, road builder Strukton Civiel and technical service provider Dynniq – the developers of SolaRoad – are partners in this project. It is a great example of cooperation between government bodies, the business community and knowledge institutes: the 'Golden Triangle of Innovation', as we call it.”
“In France, the demand arose for a new bike path that could produce energy for the public lighting. The company found the solution in the SolaRoad Kit”
The SolaRoad Kit: 3,500 kWh per year
The SolaRoad Kit has now also been launched on the market. It is a ready-to-use set of four elements measuring 3.5 by 2.5 metre which comprise a concrete carrier with a solar panel on top, developed specifically for this application. Each element is protected by a robust, translucent layer of plastic. The electronics needed to feed the electricity generated into the electricity grid are a standard feature of the SolaRoad Kit and are delivered with it. Other solutions, such as a storage option, are also possible, depending on the application. A kit generates approximately 3,500 kWh annually, which is enough to power an average Dutch household.
Energy-generating bike path in France
The demand for a new bike path arose at Etampes near Paris, France. This bike path had to produce energy for the public lighting while taking up the least possible space. The Dutch road builder Ooms, a division of Strukton Civiel, drew the French entrepreneur Charier's attention to the possibilities of the SolaRoad Kit. “If you generate electricity on the spot, you do not need any long cables or expensive trenches in which to lay them,” says De Wit. “Charier did not have to cover the whole bike path with elements either: the elements in a single kit are sufficient to provide electricity for the roundabout lighting.” Furthermore, the application of SolaRoad really made Charier's offer stand out. De Wit: “The company was awarded the contract and the energy-generating bike path was installed in September 2017.”
“A SolaRoad Kit generates approximately 3,500 kWh per year, which is enough to power an average Dutch household”
From Groningen to California
The project in France is not the only one. There is now a bench in the province of Groningen where you can sit and take a breather and, at the same time, charge your e-bike or mobile phone with renewable electricity from a SolaRoad Kit. And the American state of California wants to use SolaRoad in remote areas that are difficult to supply with energy. De Wit: “In California, they are also thinking about large scale application on motor traffic roads.”
Generating electricity on roads and bike paths
De Wit sees opportunities for SolaRoad in the Netherlands because the construction of wind and solar parks on land is coming up against more and more objections: “They take up a lot of room and local residents are seldom happy with them. So what could be more logical than generating electricity on bike paths or roads? They are already there and SolaRoad causes no extra nuisance. There are opportunities enough, also because other European countries, the United States and the Middle East are showing increasing interest. It is time to apply SolaRoad on a large scale and that is precisely what we are working on now.”