Early this year, newsreaders were treated to footage of German police forcibly evicting climate activists from the village of Lützerath to make way for an open-air coal mine. Germany may have even averted a looming energy crisis last winter increase coal consumption.
While prioritizing energy independence may have led to a detour from the transition to renewable energy sources, the country’s goal is to be climate neutral by 2045: five years ahead of the EU target. One small step, but one step nonetheless, is Europe’s first solar-roof bike path that opened this week in the city of Freiburg, about two hours south of Stuttgart.
The photovoltaic (PV) pilot project consists of a 300-meter installation with more than 900 transparent glass solar panels and will generate approximately 280 MWh of solar energy per year. According to Solarwatt, the producer of the panels that cover the path, they are particularly durable, because the solar cells are enclosed in robust glass plates at the front and back.
Existing infrastructure is playing an increasingly important role
The cleantech company now has three decades of experience making solar panels and currently employs more than 800 people across Europe. In 2022, it acquired Utrecht based battery storage specialist REConvert for an undisclosed sum, establishing a Dutch subsidiary.
Solarwatt CEO Detlef Neuhaus believes that a rethink of photovoltaics will be essential for Germany’s transition to clean energy, seeing an untapped potential in the infrastructure already in place.
“Already closed areas such as parking lots, paths and roads play an increasingly important role,” says Neuhaus said. “We are proud to have been able to contribute to the success of this innovative pilot project.”
The modules used in the bike path project have general technical approval from the German Institute for Building Technology (DIBt). This means that they can be used for both private and public projects without any restrictions, without having to be tested on a case-by-case basis.
Neighborhood stadium on solar energy
The trial cycle path is now located near the football stadium of SC Freiburg. The arena is already equipped with a 2.4 MW solar panel roof, courtesy of approximately 6,000 heterojunction solar modules from Swiss manufacturer Meyer Burger.
This makes it the third largest installation of solar panels on any stadium in the world. (The largest is from Turkish Süper Lig football club Galatasaray’s home arena Nef Stadium, which consists of more than 10,000 panels.)
The potential for much longer paths under PV roofs
This may be Europe’s first bike path with a solar panel roof (with the exception of a few projects where the path itself is covered with PV panels). However, since 2014, South Korea has had a 9 km bike path with a roof made of solar panels.
This 4 meter wide track runs in the middle of an eight-lane highway and connects the cities of Daejeon and Sejong. The 7,502 solar panels are capable of producing 2,200 MWh per year – the equivalent of about 600 households, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Several other Korean cities have implemented the technology, but this remains the longest and most energy-generating project to date.