by Isaiah Boone
In an article in Popular Mechanics from February 9th, Jay Bennett examines the details and implications of a recent announcement by the French Minister of Ecology and Energy, Ségolène Royal, that France intends to build over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of solar roads. The country will commission the road building company Colas as well as the National Institute of Solar Energy to complete the project. It is estimated that the project will be able to provide clean energy for 8-10% of the French population and is expected to be completed in the next 5 years.
This project was one of the results of the Climate Accord talks in Paris in December, 2015. France is well-known for its very heavy traffic, however the roads are usually only crowded for less than 10% of the day. This means that there is a lot of time for the solar panels placed on roads to absorb sunlight and generate energy when the roads are not being used extensively . The first stage of this project is planned to begin in the spring. Colas will build a 1 kilometer stretch of solar road that will provide electricity to power public street lighting for a town of 5,000 people.
The solar panels that will be used are Wattway. The panels are made up of photovoltaic cells and are set in a tile pattern within polycrystalline silicon. The panels are a quarter inch thick and will be placed directly on top of the road. They are skid-resistant and are sturdy enough that they will be able to support all types of vehicles including trucks. [https://weather.com/science/environment/news/france-solar-energy-wattway-colas-road-panels] Each kilometer of panels have the capacity to generate enough clean energy to power 5,000 homes. With the anticipated 1,000 kilometers of solar road layered with the Wattway panels, 5 million French households will be supplied with power from this project.
There are a few similar projects taking place. In the Netherlands there is a project to create a 229 foot bike-path with solar panels. At the same time, in Idaho there is a project still in the research phase that will assess road applications of solar panels.
While the goals and projections of France’s project are lofty, there are still some concerns surrounding it. How much the project will cost, how will it hold up against varying weather conditions, and the cost and frequency of maintenance are all important things to consider.
[https://weather.com/science/environment/news/france-solar-energy-wattway-colas-road-panels] With that being said the success of this project will be important to monitor as it may be an example and an innovative way for other countries to generate renewable energy.