By: Patrick Nelson
A Dutch solar power-generating road is making more electricity than expected.
Remember that road surface being tested in the Netherlands that acted as a giant solar panel converting solar energy into electricity? Well, guess what? It actually worked.
Six months into the test, the engineers say they’ve generated 3,000kwH of power from the 70-meter bike path test track. That’s enough power to run a one-person household for a year, and more than expected of the project, according to SolaRoad, the company behind the experiment.
Data centers are heavy users of electricity, and SolaRoad’s better-than-expected electricity generation will be interesting news for those designing data centers.
SolaRoad’s road surface acts as a huge photovoltaic panel. Practical applications thought of thus far include street lighting, traffic systems, and electric vehicles.
Designers are keen on the idea of developing a system where electricity could be passed onto vehicles as they drive down the road, for example.
Glass and concrete construction
The project uses standard, off-the-shelf solar panels that the engineers have placed between layers of glass, silicon rubber, and concrete.
Those concrete modules consist of 2.5-by-3.5-meter slabs capped with 10-millimeter thick tempered glass. Crystalline silicon solar panels are located between the glass and concrete.
The researchers are delighted that the project worked, in part because of the technical challenges. The top layer had to absorb sunlight, unlike normal blacktop. But it also had to be long-term skid-resistant for the bicycle tires, unlike what you’d get with shiny glass.
It had to repel dirt in order to keep the sun shining in, but could not break even if a service truck drove on it. Glass is obviously dangerous and could injure someone if it broke.
The skid resistance was addressed with a coating for the glass
In a 2,543-comment Reddit debate over the news of the successful test, Reddit user Imposterpill sarcastically comments: “I have an idea…why don’t we put solar cells on our roofs?”
Good point. Why roads, one might ask? What’s wrong with roofs?
Well, the engineers have an answer for that comedian:
Total electricity consumption in the Netherlands is around 110,000 GWh, and that keeps going up. That number, taking into account the small size of the country and the limited number of roofs available, means that even if all suitable roofs were equipped with solar panels, they would only supply a quarter of Dutch power consumption.
The same limits might apply in a data center. One day data center designers may want to look at surrounding infrastructure for panel placement. In other words, the roadway.
Surprisingly, the wise-crackers at Reddit haven’t posed the question – what happens when there’s a traffic jam? The cars on the road will surely block the sunlight and reduce yield. Well, the engineers do acknowledge that as a potential problem, and they say that they are looking into it as part of the pilot study.
Another Reddit user suggests placing the solar panels over the road instead of on it. However, in true Reddit-user logic, BloodBride disagrees and says:
“Solar panels OVER the road increase the amount of drunk people throwing traffic cones up there. Traffic cones ON a road invariably just get stolen, worn as hats and taken home.”
And that’s problem solving.