Earlier this year, news readers were confronted with images of German police officers forcibly removing climate activists from the village of Lützerath to make way for an open coal mine. Indeed, Germany may have averted a looming energy crisis last winter increasing its coal consumption.
While the prioritization of energy independence may have caused a detour from the transition to renewable energy, the country’s goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2045: five years ahead of the EU target. A small step along the way, but a step nonetheless, is Europe’s first solar-panel covered cycle path, which opened this week in the city of Freiburg, about a two-hour drive south of Stuttgart.
The photovoltaic (PV) pilot project consists of a 300 meter long installation with over 900 translucent glass solar modules and will generate around 280 MWh of solar electricity per year. According to Solarwatt, the manufacturer of the panels for the path, they are particularly durable because the solar cells are enclosed in robust glass panes on the front and back.
The existing infrastructure plays an increasingly important role
The cleantech company now has over three decades of experience in the manufacture of solar modules and currently employs over 800 people across Europe. In 2022, the company acquired Utrecht-based battery storage specialist REConvert for an undisclosed amount and established a Dutch subsidiary.
Solarwatt Managing Director Detlef Neuhaus believes that a rethinking of photovoltaics is essential for Germany’s energy transition and sees untapped potential in the existing infrastructure.
“Areas that are already sealed, such as parking lots, paths and roads, are playing an increasingly important role,” says Neuhaus called. “We are proud that we were able to play our part in the success of this innovative pilot project.”
Picture credits: Badenova AG & CO
The modules used in the cycle path project have general building authority approval from the German Institute for Building Technology (DIBt). This means that they can be used without restriction for private and public projects without the need for an individual assessment.
Solar powered neighboring stadium
The pilot cycle path is located near the SC Freiburg football stadium. The arena is already equipped with a 2.4 MW solar module roof, which comes from around 6,000 heterojunction solar modules from the Swiss manufacturer Meyer Burger.
This makes it the third largest solar system in a stadium in the world. (The largest belongs to Turkish Süper Lig football club Galatasaray, the home of Nef Stadium, which has more than 10,000 panels.)
The potential for much longer PV covered trails
This could be the first bike path covered with solar panels in Europe (with the exception of several projects where the path itself has been covered with PV panels). However, since 2014, South Korea has had a 9km long bike path covered by a roof made of solar panels.
This 4-meter-wide lane runs down the middle of an eight-lane highway, connecting the cities of Daejeon and Sejong. Its 7,502 solar panels can generate 2,200 MWh per year – equivalent to powering around 600 households, according to the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Several other Korean cities have implemented the technology, but this remains the longest and most power-generating project to date.
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