Solar-Powered Roads Are Closer Than We Think

It appears that solar-powered roads are becoming a reality after all.

In May this year, we wrote about Solar Roadways, a U.S. startup collecting millions of dollars in a crowdfunding campaign to develop this idea to production scale. As it turns out, SolaRoad, a Dutch project supported by TNO, an independent research organization beat them to the punch. On November 12, 2014, a short (100m) bike road, was opened to the public.

Photos courtesy of SolaRoad 

Unlike Solar Roadway’s hexagonal modules, its Dutch counterpart relies on rectangular concrete panels of approximately 2.5 x 3.5m. The test track is a two-lane bike road in Krommenie (near Amsterdam) used by around 2,000 cyclists each day. A 100-meter track may not sound like much but in a statement made to The Guardian, the operators calculated that this would be enough to power three average Dutch homes.

SolaRoad will evaluate the technology over the next three years, during which additional segments of road will be added. So far, the organization spent around €3 million in development and construction. Non-adjustable solar panels aren’t ideal to collect sunlight – they capture about 30% less energy than their roof-mounted equivalents. But public roads offer a very large surface area, 20% (280,000km) of which are expected to be suited for solar conversion in The Netherlands alone. Scalability and low-cost production will be key to make this technology viable.

If successful, The Netherlands will serve as an excellent example for the huge potential of silver usage in road-surface solar panels. Other European countries like Germany, France and  Spain, just to name a few, have exponentially larger street systems and will represent very large markets for the technology.

How long will it take to deploy? Judging from statements made by both SolaRoad and Solar Roadways we are probably five to 10 years away from seeing the technology commercialized.

Bodo Albrecht,
tminsider@eniqma.com