The world’s first solar-powered road has opened in a small village in Normandy, France. It’s paved with more than 30,000 square feet of solar panels which are specially re-inforced to take the weight of cars and trucks, including big rigs.
The one-kilometer solar road cost the French Ministry of the Environment $5.2 million (€5 million). That’s super-expensive for less than one mile of highway construction, but less costly and less disruptive than building a solar farm in the neighborhood, taking over valuable farmland or residential space.
Simply, the solar road takes advantage of existing infrastructure by paving it over with solar panels.
“Roads spend 90 percent of their time just looking up into the sky. When the sun shines, they are of course exposed to its rays,” Jean-Lic Gautier, manager of the Center for Expertise at the Colas Campus for Science and Techniques, said in a statement last year. “It’s an ideal surface area for energy applications.” French road construction company Colas engineered the project.
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, about 2,000 motorists will drive on the roadway in Tourouvre-au-Perche during a two-year test period. The test is to see if the project can generate enough energy to power street lights for the 3,400-resident village.
The French government plans eventually to pave 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of its roads with solar panels like these, extremely thin yet durable panels of polycrystalline silicon. Eventually, France hopes to furnish 5 million people with solar-powered electricity, or about 8 percent of the population.
The panel manufacturer, Wattway, claims its panels have a 15 percent yield, compared to 18-19 percent for conventional photovoltaic panels. The flat position of the panels also could affect yield, which is part of the research.
Critics are concerned with the high price of the project.
“It’s without doubt a technical advance, but in order to develop renewables there are other priorities than a gadget of which we are more certain that it’s very expensive than the fact it works,” Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), told Le Monde.
Eventually, of course, costs will come down, as they do with all new technology as it is adopted and manufacturing is beefed up from what is essentially a custom product to one that is mass-produced.
Wattway also has a demonstration product in the USA, with 150 square feet of solar panels installed at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in West Point, Georgia.
And a solar bike path in the Netherlands, called SolaRoad has been in operation since November 2014.
photo courtesy France24 news network