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Late Night: SolaRoad, The Dutch Answer to Solar Roadways

SolaRoad consortium members in 2011

Anyone who’s spent any time following the Solar Roadways story has seen the inevitable nay-sayers whose most common cries seem to be variations on “It’ll never work, it’s too impractical”.

While Scott and Julie Brusaw have struggled mightily to make their ideas bear fruit — in large part because they want to avoid the trap of going corporate and losing control of their dream — the Dutch consortium behind a new product called “SolaRoad” has been luckier. The consortium comprises the Dutch research institution TMO, Dutch engineering contractor Ooms Civiel, multidisciplinary consultant Imtech. and the Dutch province of Noord-Holland; whereas Scott and Julie Brusaw have until recently slogged along for the better part of a decade with only a few volunteer helpers, the consortium behind SolaRoad has lots of government and business money powering it, which means it was able to hire scads of technicians and engineers right from the very start in 2011 — which means that they’ve been able to start production this summer on panels for a cycleway, as part of a full-scale trial this fall.

SolaRoad’s creators do share a number of things with the Brusaws, the most notable thing being the belief that solar roads can provide enough power for a country, a belief the naysayers like to mock when it comes from the mouths of a couple in Idaho. Here’s the skinny:

According to SolaRoad, the existing road network could become a major source of sustainable electricity. If every suitable rooftop in the Netherlands were covered in PV cells, the power generated could satisfy no more than 25% of national demand, SolaRoad claims. But Dutch roads cover a significantly greater area, at nearly 50,000ha.

The 100m long trial, in the small town of Krommenie, north west of Amsterdam, is intended to test the durability and safety of the glass road surface as well as energy generation performance.

“Traffic is heavy on the cycleway, so we will be monitoring the effects of shading from cyclists on energy production,” says TNO lead architect and systems engineer Stan Klerks. “This will be a ‘living lab’, so the reaction of the public to the new surface will be interesting.”

How the translucent glass surface will be kept clean to maintain generation efficiency is another key area to be investigated, as is skid resistance during wet and icy conditions.

The units are made up of two layers of glass with the PV cells sandwiched in between, mounted in a precast concrete frame. Their resistance to weathering, wear and tear and impact will be under close scrutiny, Klerks says.

“If the glass should shatter for any reason, there will be no dangerous sharp shards, as tempered glass breaks up into small granular chunks, which are much safer,” he adds. “And the (low voltage) electrical systems are also designed for safety in such circumstances.”

Solar roadways, whether SolaRoads or Solar Roadways, are coming. It’s just a question of who gets them first.

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