Carbon-negative regional roads – the road to energy transition

The South Holland provincial authority is looking for ways to make the energy transition towards carbon neutrality a standard consideration in all its infrastructure management and maintenance activities. The province wants innovation to be a structural part of these activities, which has already produced the ‘N211 generates energy’ and ‘N470 generates energy’ projects.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The South Holland provincial authority is the regional government in the western part of the Netherlands. Of the Netherlands’ twelve provinces, South Holland is the most urbanized one. And with a population of 3.5 million, South Holland is also the most densely populated province. The provincial authority’s remit includes urban planning and infrastructure maintenance on a regional level.

The core of the transition to carbon neutrality in our consumption of energy is not merely to ‘pursue product innovation’ to switch to different energy sources, but also lies in the innovation of the underlying process. South Holland’s Infrastructure Management Service builds and takes care of day-to-day and major maintenance of the province’s infrastructure. On the one hand, using the same paving for all of the province’s five kilometers of roads enables the Infrastructure Management Service to work a lot more efficiently. But on the other hand, having the same asphalt everywhere could also mean little room for innovation.

And yet, South Holland has come up with the following solution to still be able to innovate: roads that need major maintenance are designated as project roads for the energy transition, where there is room for innovation and successes are scaled up. So, when the N211 and N470 regional roads were up for major maintenance, the focus was on sustainability. For the provincial authority, it was a genuine opportunity to innovate, without taking excessive risk. But they did not stop at product innovation, changing also the internal working methods. A road management service that alongside pure road maintenance also pursues climate targets, that is quite a switch.

At a speed dating event, innovative startups and civil engineering contractors were given the opportunity to meet each other. BAM, the contractor that was ultimately selected to upgrade the N211 road, involved several startups in their tender, enabling the use of a total of 21 innovations. The major contractors have the knowledge and experience required when it comes to building and managing roads that the innovative startups lack. In this way, the procurement procedure does not restrict tendering parties but instead offers companies opportunities to engage with each other and innovate together. On and alongside the N211 road, experiments are run with sustainable product innovations that both generate and save energy. Cylinder-shaped solar panels on lampposts by the side of the road, for example, provide solar-powered street lighting. Driven by the ambition to cut carbon emissions from infrastructure management activities, the officials responsible at the South Holland provincial authority (the district head, project managers and staff, i.e. nearly three hundred persons altogether) took stock of innovation opportunities at the Infrastructure Management Service, while also looking at any innovations that had already been implemented.

They identified a vast array of innovations, including the switch to LED lights that use 40 percent less energy and the use of ground-coupled heat exchangers to extend the life span of the asphalt because it reduces expansion and contraction of road surfaces. The amount of salt that is scattered on the road when it gets icy in winter has been reduced thanks to software that mixes the exact salt solution for road de-icing, achieving zero salt wastage, and the sheet piling that has been added alongside the road is less prone to oxidization, while the asphalt produces less noise.

The province is also a launching customer to smaller organizations with a promising, but as yet not a market-ready product, giving them the opportunity to test their product and develop it further. One example is a pilot project along the N470 road that sees tech pioneer Plant-E generate electricity from living plants by the roadside. They do this by using the electrons that microorganisms release into the soil when breaking down plants’ organic material.

Thanks to South Holland’s willingness to be a launching customer, Plant-E got its first opportunity to put its revolutionary solution into practice. In the future, it may just be possible to use electricity generated in this way to power traffic lights. This is green power in the most literal sense of the word.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Year: 2019
Level of government: Regional/State government


  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:

Join our community:

It only takes a few minutes to complete the form and share your project.