The World Climate Change Conference in The Hague last November focused attention on the environment and alternative sources of energy. The Dutch are coming up with a whole raft of devices that can be integrated into the country's infrastructure, allowing them to generate significant additional energy.
Photovoltaics (PV) are being used on motorway acoustic separation barriers - a new way of maximising the functions of urban clutter. The original pilot project was a high, curved acoustic wall outside the city of Utrecht. A short run of 590m on both sides of the road with 550m 2of PV panels, manufactured by Shell Solar, provided 30,000kWh of electrical energy per year.
A more ambitious undertaking can be seen on the southern approaches to Amsterdam. Energy Noord West, the largest power utility in the Netherlands, has a PV acoustic wall of 1,650m which produces 167MWh of electrical energy per year.
This system is connected directly to the grid.
Roads themselves are also being utilised for energy provision. Three years ago the Dutch federal highways agency was looking for a low-cost maintenance alternative to replace the 20-year-old concrete surface of a series of bridge roads at Haringvliet in Zeeland. The answer was Hot Road technology.
Extensive performance studies indicated that the life cycle of roads could be increased and the impact of summer and winter temperature variables could be reduced by laying an isolation layer within the road build-up. This layer contains reinforced pipework through which water can flow from storage aquifers either side of the road.
Even when external air temperatures were as low as 12-15degreesC, water temperatures in the under-road pipes rose to in excess of 50degreesC. This corresponds to an energy yield of some 80W/m 2/h - even when the sun does not shine all day. For every 6m 2of asphalt some 770kWh per annum can be delivered. So 1km of road can heat about 100 houses (given that 7,000kWh is needed to heat a fourbedroomed house).
At the same time, road life has been enhanced fourfold by the reduction of rutting and cracks. The high cost of de-icing is also greatly reduced.
Currently, eight such road projects are in the planning process. Three urban locations, including Nijmegen, are conducting tests and next year a 2,200m 2office park will use the 'hot asphalt' technology in its parking and roof construction.
High on the agenda are the ongoing evaluations and in-depth studies at Frankfurt and Schiphol airports, where large areas of the new tarmac can be used to increase energy efficiency, reduce maintenance costs and provide vast amounts of non-fossil fuel energy for sale to adjacent companies.
Winnerway, the Dutch-Swedish consortium developing the Hot Road technology, is about to unwrap the next stage in its development, the Moduslab. The aim is to place new roads above existing ones, like continuous bridges, and well above possible flood levels. This will address the problems of road development in a land-hungry country. The Moduslab is a solar-energy prefabricated system, complete with ground earth/water heat probes. Engineering designs will be ready in February but the company is already planning implementation.
Hot Roads, wind turbines, ground heat systems and ecological energysaving houses are just some of the technological answers that the Dutch are developing, producing and selling.
Technology for reducing greenhouse gases is seen not only as a national responsibility and a boost for jobs, but also the creation of a range of products for the global market. Dutch architects are being encouraged with European Community and government funding to allow their buildings to become part of nationwide demonstration projects. The country is capitalising on its opportunities.
During football's European Championships last year Arnhem's new 50,000-seater Gelredome became a demonstration project for new energy-saving systems.
Conversely, British innovation has been left to wilt through the inability of successive governments to find the funds and encourage development. We were the inventors of the heat pump, the innovators of wave power and pioneers in energysaving housing. But even when we recognise technological advancement, we do not shout about it loudly enough. It is only after some serious lobbying that Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has finally encouraged his junior ministers to investigate the Dutch-Swedish Hot Road initiative.
It is not before time.