Solar panels are popping up everywhere these days. They’re currently on rooftops, cars and even external battery packs. Scientists are even trying to create a transparent version that can be installed on windows. The sustainable movement has encouraged some to attempt the unthinkable. Last year, SolaRoad, a technology firm based in Amsterdam, announced it would install solar panels on mainstream roads. It was a crazy idea that spurred mixed reactions from locals.
This isn’t the first time a company tried to win the solar community over with a grand idea. In 2014, a controversial Indiegogo campaign that promised to bring “the roads of the future” went viral and raised over $2.2 million in funds. To this day, the sketchy group has not laid out a single working panel. The actual campaign was filled with nonsense and the couple came back with another fundraising attempt. But this time, they’re only selling 90s clipart themed merchandise and memorabilia.
SolaRoad is the real deal. Proving the skeptics wrong, the firm installed a long bike path composed of green, solar material. “Solar panels on rooftops are a no-brainer and fortunately the application is growing rapidly,” said Sten de Wit from SolaRoad. “If we can additionally incorporate solar cells in road pavements, then a large extra area will become available for decentralized solar energy generation without the need for extra space … and just part of the roads which we build and use anyway.”
Turning the company’s dream into a reality was no easy task. The first roadblock researchers encountered was technology. No one had ever done something like this before, and starting from scratch required serious funds. The business ended up spending a whopping $3.7 million on the project. With only $2,000 in electricity savings generated by the path, some began questioning the viability of the installation. It is important to consider though that the workers only laid out 230 feet of the stuff. Also, new technology in general is expensive. The first computers developed by engineers in the 1950s were out of reach for most people. It took a couple of decades for manufacturers to step in and drive the costs down so average consumers could buy them.
In addition to bringing costs down, researchers want to make the roads more functional. Eventually, the paths will be able to push power out to nearby road facilities, like street lamps and traffic lights. Electric cars could also stay charged for a longer period of time on the solar powered roads through wireless power transfers. The startup foresees costs related to creating a functional solar infrastructure to decrease steadily by as much as 55 percent in the next 10 years, which could speed up the inception of their plans.
“For cities and agencies responsible for building and maintaining roads—mainly governmental agencies—this is an interesting proposition if the total cost of ownership (sum of costs and benefits from energy production) of such a road over the life cycle would be comparable to or lower than with current roads. With SolaRoad we are developing such a road,” highlighted de Wit.