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The world's first solar bike lane: Lessons for solar roads?

In the Netherlands, a 100-meter bike path made of photovoltaic cells offers a test bed for the solar roadway. 

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Cyclists in the Netherlands are pedaling their way between Amsterdam's suburbs and toward a cleaner future on a piloted solar-panelled bike lane.

SolaRoad, the world's first road that converts sunlight into electricity, will officially open Nov. 12.  

The 100-meter stretch of road consists of concrete modules and has photovoltaic cells fitted in one travelling direction underneath a tempered glass top layer about a centimeter thick, according to a statement from SolaRoad. The other lane, which does not have solar cells, will be used to test various top layers.

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"In time, the solar power from the road will be used for practical applications in street lighting, traffic systems, electric cars (which drive on the surface) and households," the statement said.

The developers note that electric cars may also be able to make use of the energy.

"This could be a breakthrough in the field of sustainable energy supply. In particular, if the road concept will develop into a system, with which the generated electricity is transported to the vehicles driving on the road," said Innovator Sten de Wit, according to the company's website. "Try to imagine that power will then be generated at the place where it is needed. Subsequently, a big step towards an energy-neutral mobility system will be possible."

This first section of the roadway, which runs along the provincial road N203 in Krommenie, will be measured and tested and then further developed over the next three years. Developers will be assessing how it behaves in practice, how much energy it produces, and what it is like to bicycle over it. The statement said the road technology was tested for safety previous to the surface being laid.

A feasibility study indicates a return of investment is possible within 20 years, and developers are aiming for a payback period of 15 years or less, according the website. Optimizing maintenance of the technical systems is another goal of the test period. 

SolaRoad points out that pollution and general traffic grime will affect the amount of light that passes through the top layer to the solar cells. 

"By making the top layer dirt repellent and by putting the road under a sufficient slope, we make sure that the effects of pollution as small as possible," according to the website. "What the yield will be exactly is one of the research questions in the pilot."

SolaRoad is a consortium project born at TNO involving the Province of North-Holland, Ooms Civiel, and Imtech Traffic & Infra.

Across the Atlantic, an Idaho-based company started a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to build solar panels into parking lots, driveways, and roads. Solar Roadway founders came up with a design that stands up to the rigors of use – passing traction, load testing and impact resistance testing without issue.

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