In Normandy village of Tourouvre-au-Perche, France, now there is a road that is a ‘solar road’ and is now open for use.
Ségolène Royal, the French minister of environment unveiled the one kilometer trial installation, known as Wattway, and which is made up of 2,880 photovoltaic panels.
280 megawatt hour per year is expected to be produced by the solar road according to its makers. The network of French electricity provider Enedis would be fed with the electricity produced by the road.
“We are still (in)… an experimental phase,” Jean-Charles Broizat, a Wattway director, said in a news release. “Building a trial site of this scale is a real opportunity for our innovation,” he added.
The synthesis between solar power and transport is becoming increasingly common.
While Solar Team Eindhoven – made up of students from the Eindhoven University of Technology – have been designing and developing solar powered vehicles for several years, earlier this year, the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft completed a round-the-world trip powered solely by the sun.
1,000 Km (621 miles) of road with solar panels over the next five years was announced to be paved by the French government in February.
This new 1 km of solar road should be able to produce enough energy to power the city’s streetlights and according to official estimates, an average by 2,000 motorists per day would move through this road.
However 5 million dollars was spent for the project and many are questioning this huge expenditure in exchange for the limited outcome.
But since “it takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use…to produce electricity without taking up new real estate”, Royal pointed out a positive side of this new use of solar energy which is that it does not require any kind of civil engineering work.
But yet, analysts are raking up the economics behind the project. Critics like the vice-president of the French Network for Energetic Transition, Marc Jedliczka, dubbed the experiment more like an engineering feat, and a “gadget” than a sustainable way to produce energy as rooftop panels are much cheaper and more effective at this stage, costing 13 times less than Wattway cells per kilowatt-peak.
Other issues are somewhat scientific. Compared to the angled panels that are installed on roofs, flat solar panels are less effective.
Colas, the company that installed the road, has around 100 solar panel road projects in progress around the world and hopes to reduce the cost of the panels going forward.
Solar Roadway is another company that has installed a smaller number of panels at the Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway, Missouri earlier this year and is looking at building roads with solar panels. Still, they’re facing the same seemingly insurmountable cost problems as Colas and the French.
Maybe those solar roofs from Tesla are the better way to go after all.
(Adapted from CNBC & Forbes)