by Marcus Leach
Over recent weeks we here at The Essential Cyclist have reported on some rather unusual cycling stories, not least the idea for a floating cycle path in London or the introduction of glow-in-the-dark road markings. However, it would appear the Dutch are taking things to the next level with the news that they have created a cycle path made of solar panels.
A popular stretch of bike path, it is estimated that 2,000 cyclists use it each day, that connects the Amsterdam suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer has become the world's first public road with embedded solar panels. A 70 metre section of the road, which has cost local authorities in the region of £2.4 million, could provide enough electricity for three households.
The road is made up of rows of crystalline silicon solar cells, encased within concrete and covered with a translucent layer of tempered glass. To ensure maximum sunlight exposure it is completed with a non-adhesive finish and a slight tilt to help the rain wash off dirt, thus keeping the surface clean.
The Netherlands' TNO research institute, which developed the concept behind the solar bicycle path, believe that this idea goes well beyond the three households the test strip could power.
Sten de Wit of the institute told The Guardian that up to 20% of the Netherlands’ 140,000km of road could potentially be adapted, helping to power anything from traffic lights to electric cars. Tests have seen the solar panel units successfully carry the weight of heavy vehicles such as tractors.
However, not everyone is so supportive of the idea. Craig Morris of Renewables International, a German energy news and analysis magazine, has branded the idea 'stupid'.
"The Guardian article says that simply lying them flat rather than at an optimal orientation (of around 30 degrees, which the article does not say) means that the panels produce 'roughly 30 per cent less energy'," Morris said in an opinion article.
"I’m going to guess that the dirt, tempered glass and shading reduce power production far more, probably by something closer to 100 per cent (meaning >65 per cent). Without the roughed up glass, people would probably be falling off their bikes quite frequently.
"The roads [in the Netherlands] need roofs. Solar roofs. You could put up a solar roof over a bike path, provide protection from the rain (most of the year) and the sun (a few days a year), and actually generate a decent amount of electricity.
"Cyclists would not shade the panels, not as much dirt would build up on the panels if they are three metres up, and you would have a much less expensive, safer bike path underneath."