The world's first public road that includes embedded solar cells has opened in the town of Krommenie in the Netherlands, NPR reports.
The crystalline silicon solar cells are encased in two layers of tempered safety glass, set in a concrete housing. The road is a bike commuter path on a special roadway outside Amsterdam. Power generated by the panels will be funneled into the national energy grid.
A company called SolaRoad pre-built the concrete slabs that have been refined in years of testing. It was particularly challenging to produce energy-producing slabs that are both durable and rideable by thousands of cyclists a day, the company told NPR.
The section of the path that opened last month is 230 feet long. SolaRoad says it is a test of an idea that could eventually lead to roads that generate the same power that electric cars use to travel on them. This portion of the path could meet the electrical demands of two or three houses for a year.
The path’s panels will produce about 30 percent less power than similar panels might produce on a rooftop because they lie flat instead of being angled to take optimal advantage of the sun. However, the researchers also note that with around 87,000 miles of roadways, Holland's total road surface area is "significantly larger" than that of rooftops that could host solar panels.
This isn’t the only instance of solar being integrated with roads. An Idaho couple has developed a modular paving system of solar panels that can be installed on roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, as well as playgrounds, and generate electricity to power homes and businesses connected via driveways and parking lots. The glass surface has been tested for traction, load testing and impact resistance in civil engineering laboratories around the country, and exceeded all requirements. This modular system could modernize an aging infrastructure with an intelligent system that can become the new Smart Grid.
The sky’s the limit for solar innovation. Earlier this year, a pair of designers developed a portable outlet that absorbs solar energy and converts it to electricity for everyday use. This device can be attached to a window or wall that gets a lot of sunlight and, after eight hours of charging, holds up to 10 hours of electricity. This can then be used to charge a phone or any number of electricity-hungry gadgets.