“The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.”
— Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity, 1974
So what would make a bicycle even more efficient and in harmony with its surroundings?
How about a bike path made of solar panels that collect energy from the sun and use it to power street lights, traffic signals and even small appliances in nearby homes?
That idea is about to become a reality in the Netherlands, one of the world’s most bike-friendly countries.
The government of North Holland plans to install solar panels in 2012 on a cycle path near the town of Krommenie, northwest of Amsterdam.
The project, called SolaRoad, is expected to generate 50 kilowatt hours per square meter per year. It was developed by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), along with the Province of North Holland; the Ooms Avenhorn Group, a Dutch company that specializes in road building; and Imtech, a producer of alternative forms of energy.
The path is to consist of a bed of concrete blocks covered with a 1-centimeter-thick layer of silicon solar cells, which in turn would be protected by a layer of glass tough enough to drive a truck on.
Judging from the artist’s rendering of the bike path, it appears to be too slick to provide much traction and could be downright dangerous in wet weather. But the vice governor of North Holland, Bart Heller, told reporters that the surface is a kind of thick plate glass that would be resistant to inclement weather and not slippery.
Calling the Krommenie project “unique in the world,” Heller noted that tens of thousands of miles of pavement in Holland — bike lanes and motorways — absorb the sun’s rays. “It would be wonderful,” he said, “if we could turn them into sustainable energy.”