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This short bike path could power a home for a year

Embedded with solar cells, the world’s first energy-producing bike path is humming along in the Netherlands.

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    Roads embedded with solar cells could be a significant source of electricity. Companies such as Solaroad in The Netherlands and Solar Roadways in the US are experimenting with the idea.
    Courtesy of Solar Road
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The world’s greenest bike path is paving the way to turn roads and sidewalks into generators of carbon-free electricity.

In six months, a 230-foot-long bike path embedded with solar cells in a village near Amsterdam has generated enough electricity to power a home for a year.

The company that built the solar-powered bike path, SolaRoad, said the project is producing more power than predicted, generating  some 3,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

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"We did not expect a yield as high as this so quickly,” SolaRoad spokesperson Sten de Wit said in a statement. “Translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70 kWh per square meter per year, which we predicted as an upper limit in the laboratory stage. We can therefore conclude that it was a successful first half year.”

The pilot bike path was launched in November as an out-of-the-box idea on how to utilize the world’s infrastructure for power generation. The bike path includes solar cells embedded in concrete and covered by a thick layer of transparent, skid-resistant tempered glass that’s safe for bikes, people, and even vehicles.

If miles of bike paths, roads, and city infrastructure were covered with solar panels, the energy generation could be substantial.

More than 150,000 bicycles have ridden over the solar-paneled stretch so far, all part of the testing phase of the three-year, $3.5 million pilot project.

The biggest issue to date has been the panels’ response to fluctuating temperatures. In early winter and early spring, the glass coating shrunk on some panels, causing them to peel at the corners. Repairs have already been made, and engineers are planning to develop a sturdier top layer to solve the problem.

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SolaRoad’s next project could be in the United States, thanks to a recent partnership between the California Energy Commission and the province of Noord-Holland, which helped fund SolaRoad.

 “I think the idea is to gather information, from what they’re doing over at SolaRoad,” said Linda Rapattoni, spokesperson for the California Energy Commission. “We are checking out what they’re doing overseas, and waiting for the data to come in, and then we’ll go from there.”

A similar project called Solar Roadways is under way in the U.S., using solar panels invented by two Idaho natives that can be used for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails, and even highways.

In April 2014, engineers Scott and Julie Brusaw started an Indiegogo campaign that raised $2.2 million in funds to test the system. Their prototype roadway solar panels melt snow, produce energy, and cut greenhouse gases, according to the Solar Roadways campaign page.

Now, they’re testing their panels on a driveway in Idaho, and have potential pilot projects lined up at train station platforms, city sidewalks, and animal shelter parking lots. 

• Taylor Hill is TakePart's associate environment and wildlife editor.

This article originally appeared at TakePart, a leading source of socially relevant news, features, opinion, entertainment, and information – all focused on the issues that shape our lives. Visit takepart.com/start-from-the-source.

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