First ever solar panel road opens in France

A Normandy village in Northern France has officially opened what it claims to be the world’s first solar panel road.

First ever solar panel road opens in France

The 1km stretch of road in Tourouvre-au-Perche was launched on Thursday by France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal. It is built up of 2,800 square metres of solar panels, and officials hope it will generate enough energy to power street lighting for the village.

The road, known as Wattway, cost €5 million (£4.2 million) to build, which was covered by a grant from the state. Before being installed, the panels were tested by its constructor Colas – a subsidiary of telecoms company Bouygues – across four car parks in France.

Around 2,000 motorists are predicted to use the road every day, which inevitably raises questions about whether the solar panels are robust enough to withstand the onslaught of heavy vehicles. The panels are apparently covered with a study resin layer, which contains sheets of silicon, although the RD5 road will have a two-year test period to gauge the success of the technology.

There’s also the issue of whether the road will be a cost-effective use of renewable energy funds. Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of sustainable energy group Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), told Le Monde: “It’s without doubt a technical advance, but in order to develop renewables there are other priorities than a gadget of which we are more certain that it’s very expensive than the fact it works.”

As The Guardian points out, a cycle path in the Netherlands was coated in solar panels. That stretch has so far generated 3,000kWh of energy, but the cost of building the path could have paid for 520,000kWh.

Royal has said she wants to there to be a wider rollout of solar panel roads, with an aim to install the technology in one of every 1,000km of highway. If this is the case, it may need to become a more convincing argument from a financial perspective. For its part, Colas has said it intends to reduce the cost of producing the panels.   

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