Wattway Solar Road in Tourouvre to make France Energy Independent by 2020

“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.

French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal walks on a solar panel road during its inauguration in Tourouvre, Normandy, northwestern France.
The world’s first solar road was inaugurated on Thursday in Normandy, a technology the minister hopes will develop in France and abroad despite criticism of its high cost and profitability. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

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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Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.