The Netherlands is expanding a test of solar panel sound barriers (SONOB) as part of a project replacing currently installed sound barriers. The bifacial solar panel screens are rated to generate electricity equivalent to usage in 40 to 60 houses. The 2014 test project (see images below) met expectations – including how the panels would deal with public nuisances such as graffiti. In 2016, the solar sound barrier won the Golden Decibel award for great ideas in the public project category.
This new project will begin construction in early 2018, with expectations to connect to the grid in the same year. The highway sound barriers are five meters high and four meters wide. The lower two panels are filled with bifacial solar cells that look custom-built for the project. The 400 meter stretch of highway will be built with 68 individual units. The original test from 2014 hypothesized that the final efficiency would be between 4-8% efficiency versus (the then) standard panels in the 14-16% range. The Netherlands currently has 1,250 km of highway sound barriers installed.
The initial test included multiple product types. One of these included – ‘Luminescent Solar Concentrators‘ (LSC) – molecules inserted into the glass that can absorb the photons and re emit them in the direction of the solar cells within the glass. The results of the test concluded that LSC solar panels needed more development before they’d become financially competitive. It was during these tests that we got the great picture of Mr. Nikola Tesla being spray painted on the panels.
Infrastructure Integrated Photovoltaics (IIPV) is becoming an increasingly common technique of maximizing the value of solar power. The term is really just an adjustment of ‘building integrated photovoltaics’ (BIPV) – solar panels that are integrated into building structures. Examples of BIPV include Tesla’s Solar Roof Shingles, Apples rooftop solar panels made by Onyx, solar windows which are really beautiful art, and standard windows made by Onyx.
But the reality is that window are just the beginning. Parking lot structures that both protect cars from heat and persons from weather have been getting built for a long time – and as the price of solar keeps coming down, it is starting to make financial sense. NREL suggests that covering parking lot with solar could generate more than the 40% of electricity buildings can potentially generate in the USA.
Example of IIPV are starting to pop up all over:
- China built an immense solar farm that sat atop a fishery
- Japan is testing growing mushrooms underneath solar farms
- India is covering water canals with solar panels to both minimize evaporation and generate electricity
- In Minnesota they’re integrating flowering plants and natural grasses in order to support declining bee populations
- The Carolinas have been heavily researching integration of sheep grazing and solar
- The Netherlands built a bike path with solar panels
- A huge 700MW Chinese solar farm with grapes growing underneath – a product that cannot deal with the full sunlight of the region otherwise
and of course…
- Solar freaking roadways man – which may or may not come to be ‘roadways’, but instead sidewalks, parking lots or public space
Each of these examples shows a technique that will increase the value of solar power while minimizing the land use issues that so many fret about. Go Netherlands!