The World’s First Solar Road is Doing Very Well

solar-roadwaysWhat if we could drive on solar panels? What if our roads — think everything from country roads to expressways — could produce solar energy?

The world continues to creep closer to this reality. After six months of being put to work, the world’s first solar road is performing better than expected, according to ThinkProgress.

The First Solar Road

Last November, the first solar road opened in the Netherlands. It’s 230-feet of road that’s embedded with solar cells protected by two layers of safety glasses. The road was also built for bicycle traffic, which plays into the Netherlands’ cycling culture. Interestingly, the road ends up promoting two environmentally friendly messages, with both solar technology and the encouragement to use vehicles less and bike instead.

So far, around 150,000 cyclists have ridden across the road, and it’s produced over 3,000 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power one small household for a year. Spokesmen for the project stated it’s been a huge success, but that they hadn’t expected the road to yield such high results so quickly. The developers are working on creating solar panels that could withstand more weight so large buses and vehicles can drive on it.

Solar Roadway’s Next Steps

While there are plans in the works to continue expanding the road, unfortunately solar roads aren’t nearly as effective at producing renewable solar energy compared to other arrays in solar farms or rooftop panels. Unlike a rooftop panel or set of panels on a solar farm, solar panels in the road cannot tilt to face the sun. As a result, there’s not enough direct sunlight to make a massive difference.

That said, there’s hope for solar road expansion. Apart from these initial numbers looking good, solar roads don’t take up huge chunks of land. Instead of having to build solar arrays, solar roadways could help pick up extra solar energy, or one day help to replace the need for as many arrays.

The Netherlands aren’t the only country to build solar arrays — last year in the U.S., an Indiegogo campaign to build solar roadways raised more than $2.2 million. However, the cost of building these solar roads plus issues regarding road safety may be preventing construction on the roads of America. Plus, there’s the issue of whether newer solar roads could withstand heavy traffic and that glass protecting those solar panels will not break.

According to Greentech Media, Eric Weaver, a research engineer at the Federal Highway Administration’s research and technology department, said, “We can’t say that it would be safe for roadway vehicular traffic. Further field-traffic evaluation is needed to determine safety and durability performance.”

What do you think of solar roads? Do you think the U.S. can build them to withstand heavy traffic? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!


Image Credit: SolaRoad via IFL Science under a Creative Commons license

  • by Nadia Osman
  • |
  • May 15, 2015

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