Foto TNO

There is still a lot of work to be done to make flexible solar cells on Dutch crash barriers profitable. Costs must be reduced and efficiency increased. But the potential of flexible foil containing solar cells remains enormous. In short, this is the conclusion of TNO after 1 year of testing along a stretch of motorway near Heerhugowaard, the Netherlands.

The project “Modular E-cover for Smart Highways” (MESH) has been carried out by the province of North Holland, TNO, Solliance Solar Research, Heijmans, Femtogrid, and the Hogeschool Amsterdam.

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1200 kilowatt hours

The E-cover is placed as a kind of box on the guardrail. On top of that comes the solar foil. And on top of that a cover that, among other things, ensures that motorists are not blinded. Photo TNO

What was particularly disappointing was the power yield. This amounted to 1200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) for a stretch of 72 meters, whereas 1800 KWh per year was expected. According to TNO, this is mainly due to the protective cover, which stands in the way of optimal operation of the solar cells. This needs to be improved.

Another point of concern is the costs. “To be able to generate profitable and sustainable energy with an integrated system, the costs must be further reduced,” writes TNO. “In the redesign, therefore, the installation costs, often the largest cost item of a solar system, will receive a lot of attention.

On the positive side, the solar cells continued to supply power in all weather conditions throughout the entire period. The participants also learned a lot from the use of different types of solar cells. It is all knowledge that can be used in follow-up projects.

N194 at Heerhugowaard

The project on the N194 near Heerhugowaard was only 72 meters long. In total, the Netherlands has about 7,500 kilometers of crash barriers. So the potential is enormous. In addition, flexible solar foils can also be cleverly used on, for example, noise barriers or other infrastructural works.

MESH is subsidized by the iDEEGO (Innovation Sustainable Energy and Energy Saving in the Built Environment) scheme of the top sector Energy, facilitated by the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO).

The role of the various participants was:

    • Province of North Holland: road authority
    • TNO and Solliance Solar Research: development of the application of solar foil, design of the E-cover and monitoring
    • Heijmans: co-development of the E-cover and the installation
    • Femtogrid: the electrical equipment
    • Hogeschool van Amsterdam: students projects

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.