France Officially Unveils World’s First Solar Panel Road

photo courtesy of COLAS-Yves SOULABAILLE.

photo courtesy of COLAS-Yves SOULABAILLE.

The concept of solar roadways has been in the news a lot recently.  Using the millions of miles of roadways throughout the world to also create power seems like a no brainer, the asphalt and concrete we’re using now aren’t really accomplishing anything more than handling the traffic on the road. But, there’s also a very strong reason why those products are used: they’re strong, reliable, and relatively durable.  Still, many researchers believe there is a lot of unharnessed potential for roads and the world now has a very strong test subject for the future of solar roadways in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France.

Wattway, a pholtovaltaic road pavement system, has been in development stages for the past 5 years.  Colas, a worldwide infrastructure company, and INES, the National Institute for Solar Energy, joined forces to create what they think is the future of roads.  Unlike other solar road systems, Wattway uses existing roads as the base and the solar panels adhere directly on top.  The material, which is less than an inch thick, allows for both the thermal expansion of the material beneath, as well as the ability to handle the load from vehicles driving on it, according to the company.

Recently, a small village in France, named Tourouvre-au-Perche, became the first to have the system installed on its roads and the first in the world to have a solar road of any kind.  A 0.6 mile (1km) road in the village has been covered by over 30,000 square feet (2,800 square meters) of solar panels, according to The Guardian. The road, which is expected to handle around 2,000 vehicles a day cost over $5.3 million (€5m) to complete.  The panels will undergo a test period of 2 years in order to determine their true durability and figure out how much energy they can actually generate.  Initial tests have indicated that it will take 215 square feet of panels to power the average French household, as panels that lay horizontal have proven to be much less efficient than those that are tilted.

There are some other trial of solar pavements ongoing in other places across the world, as well.  Solar Roadways (of “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” fame) went viral and raised over $2 million on Indiegogo last year.  They also struck a deal to test their panels in Sandpoint, Idaho last year, but their trial has been disappointing, to say the least. The company installed 30 solar panels in a pedestrian only pathway and they encountered manufacturing problems that they’re still dealing with today.

We’re interested to see how further trials of solar roads work out, but proponents of the technology believe that the technology is too expensive for the benefit.  Others believe solar paneled roofs should be perfected before moving on to roads. 

What do you think?  Will solar roads catch on in the future?

Below is a video with some additional information on Wattway: