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Experiment into solar cycle paths has worked even better than expected, say engineers

After a few teething troubles, engineer in the Netherlands say the solar bike path they built is working even better than expected.

The 70m long path converts sunlight into electricity in the town of Krommenie, 25 kilometres from Amsterdam.

Called SolaRoad, the pilot installation is 70 metres in length – by 2016, it will have been extended to 100 metres – and comprises modules measuring 2.5 metres by 3.5 metres.

Those in one direction of travel have solar panels beneath a 1 centimetre thick layer of tempered glass, said to be able to withstand the weight of a lorry.

The modules in the other direction don’t have the solar panels, and are being used to test a variety of surfaces.

Now, six months into the trial, engineers say the test bike path is generating 3,000 kWh, or enough electricity to power a small household for a year.

"If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square metre per year," Sten de Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, the group behind the project, told Al Jazeera.

The solar panels used on the Dutch bike path are sandwiched between glass, silicon rubber and concrete, and are strong enough to support 12-tonne fire trucks without any damage.

The electricity produced can be fed into the national grid, or directly to street lighting.

"If one panel is broken or in shadow or dirt, it will only switch off that PV panel," said Jan-Hendrik Kremer, Renewable Energy Systems consultant at technology company Imtech.

One panel did break down a few months ago, but on the whole the road stood up to more than 150,000 cyclists, and the team at SolaRoad is now working to improve a laminated coating  on the panels.

"We made a set of coatings, which are robust enough to deal with the traffic loads but also give traction to the vehicles passing by," Stan Klerks, a scientist at Dutch research group TNO said.

SolaRoad is now working with local councils around the Netherlands to try to roll the technology out in other provinces. A similar agreement has also been signed with California in the US.

We recently reported how the Dutch could be on track to get their own super-fast e-bike freeway, allowing commuters to travel the 30km between Groningen, Haren, Assen and Tynaarlo faster than ever before under (mostly) their own steam.

E-bikes are increasingly popular in Holland, and with speeds up to 45 kmph city authorities are looking at ways to exploit their use for intercity transport.

Henk Brink, a deputy from Drenthe, told Die Krant van Midden-Drenthe, “New rapid cycle infrastructure could be a nice addition to all measures that we have already taken in the field of cycling and accessibility in the Groningen-Assen region.”

The new paths could include features like sensors, alternative power generation, self-healing pavement and asphalt that glows in the dark.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.