In urban centers, space is at a premium, requiring creative thinking and innovative approaches to find sustainable solutions to climate and health challenges. Many municipalities are searching for ways to integrate emissions reduction technologies with more environmentally friendly activities.
A perennial desire for sustainable urban planners has been to better utilize the miles of concrete and asphalt that make up the surfaces of roads and sidewalks to achieve sustainability goals. For many cities, taking space back from cars and parking lots to plant urban greenery, provide safer bike lanes, and offer more pedestrian space has been the preferred method of greening urban areas.
A new development in the Netherlands could change the composition of urban sustainability projects. The opening of the world's longest solar bikeway offers the potential for exciting new possibilities of integrating clean energy generation with zero emissions travel. The bike lane itself consists of concrete slabs with solar cells implanted in them, all of which is covered by a thin transparent layer that allows the sunlight to reach the cells.
Adding the generation of clean electricity to routes designed for carbon free transportation has a number of benefits, both locally and globally. These clean technologies reduce the amount of carbon emissions and local particulate matter in the air, making it safer and less smoggy. Between these two solutions, urban centers can aim for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, especially as more governments mandate higher renewable energy production.
Indeed, the primary benefits of converting from cities dominated by internal combustion engines to those driven primarily by electric motors or human power is the reduction in local air pollution. Particulate matter, volatile gases, and carbon dioxide all cause significant health problems and damage local ecosystems. By removing cars from the road, many of the corresponding emissions also fall.
Similarly, fossil fuel combustion for power generation also emits high levels of pollution. With the need for energy in cities growing as more people move into them, alternative clean energy is required to make sure that the air surrounding urban centers remains clean and safe. Clean energy can offset existing fossil fuel power and guarantee healthier and cleaner cities as well as reducing global carbon emissions and warming.
The combination of bike infrastructure with solar panels may also be an indicator of a larger reimagining of how to make cities sustainable. A bikeway such as this may signal proof-of-concept for pavement that doubles as solar electricity generation. If the bikeway both encourages less reliance on cars and produces clean energy, cities might be more inclined to engage in the widespread deployment of solar pavers. Making that move could dramatically reduce the carbon emissions and air pollution that growing urban centers will face in the future.