“This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use… to produce electricity without taking up new real estate”
French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal commenting on the launch of the Wattway
France has done it again. This time they’ve lead the way with an innovative concept that being the world’s first highway with solar panels built into the roadway.
The project began with four pilot sites around France, in parking lots or in front of public buildings, surfaces of between 50 and 100 square metres each. Measuring only 1 km (0.5 mile), this small strip of innovation, built by French civil engineering firm Colas, a subsidiary of construction giant Bouygues, costs the French some €5 million (£4.2m) to construct in the small Normandy town of Tourouvre.
It has a surface area of 2,800 square metres (30,000 square feet) and is trafficked by some 2,000 motorists a day. Over the next two (2) years, the Wattway roadway, which has resin-coated solar cells powering the street lighting of the 3,400 people living in Tourouvre.
This little solar roadway is part of a four (4) year plan to cover most of the highways in France with solar panels. Already being tested in the Netherlands and Germany, the idea is that the roadways are occupied only 20% of the time, making the roadways the perfect surface to absorb and convert ambient sunshine to electricity.
France can become energy independent if they cove only 25% of their million kilometers of roads with solar panels. In essence, this is a small scale test that may become a large scale test of the Wattway in the future.
France and Wattway – Testing begins as potential of Solar Roadways is huge in 2020
However, there are problems on the road ahead, pun oh so intended.
For one, places that have tried the solar panels built into the roadways such as a 70-metre stretch of a cycling lane north of Amsterdam have experienced some damage. TNO, the company that installed the solar powered cycling path in Amsterdam, has reported that this was due to expansion caused by freezing water from the winter of 2015.
Also, the panels are only working at maximum efficiency when the sunlight is shining straight down from the sky instead of a slanting angle at different times of the day. With only 44 days of strong sunshine a year, the small Normandy town of Tourouvre may not be the best place to test out this concept.
The cost of the solar power is also very high at €17, compared with €1.30 for a major rooftop installation. But with the French renewable energy association Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables projecting that the cost of solar energy will decrease by 60% between 2009 and 2015, expect Wattway to be competitive by 2020, possibly powering all of France!
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