Conserving energy two ways at once.

Every morning, around 2,000 cyclists commute along a bike path between the Amsterdam suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer. But beginning next week, that stretch of bike trail will be serving two purposes: shuttling cyclists and generating electricity.

TNO, a Dutch research institute, has embedded a 230-foot stretch of the bicycle path with solar panels in an experiment to test the validity of full-scale solar-panel-infused roadways. The group plans to expand the path 100-feet further by 2016 in the hopes that it will eventually generate enough energy to sustain two to three households.

Instead of conventional pavement, the aptly named SolaRoad is composed of rows of crystalline silicon solar cells covered by a durable layer of tempered glass. On the surface, the glass has been installed on a slight tilt – intended to wick away water – and a skid-resistant material has been applied to ensure sufficient grip to safely bike and walk on. Stress tests against falling steel balls have proven positive for durability. This technology coincides with an initiative popularized earlier this year by the US-based company Solar Roadways, which hopes to integrate US roads and parking lots with specially designed solar panels. Though a potential for sustainable energy, the SolaRoad and other concepts like it aren’t without their critics. 

One notable downside is its inability to adjust to the changing angles of sunlight, which according to The Guardian, could cause the SolaRoad to generate 30 percent less energy than roof-mounted solar panels. Additionally, the technology isn’t cheap at the time being. The entire 328-foot SolaRoad costs around $3.7 million, though local authorities have largely covered the expense. Nevertheless, if such systems are successfully integrated on a wide scale, the energy yields could be massive. By Solar Roadway’s own calculations, if all US roads were converted to solar units, the country could generate three times as much energy as it consumes.

Source: The Guardian