In recent decades, the French government has taken commendable steps to steer the country towards a greener and more eco-friendly future. Home to Europe’s largest solar plant, France has made remarkable headway in the photovoltaic industry, over the last few years. As part of the new “Positive Energy” initiative, authorities have announced plans to install several thousand solar panels on around 1,000 km (or 621 mi) of road, in the next five years.
The project, which aims to provide renewable energy to over 5 million people (approximately 8-percent of the French populace), will be funded by increasing taxes levied on fossil fuels. As the French minister of ecology and energy Ségolène Royal points out, it will help reduce dependency on environmentally-harmful fossil fuels, without needing separate land for solar or wind farms. Fitted directly onto existing roads, the solar panels will use a special photovoltaic technology, unveiled last year by researchers from France-based firm Colas.
The concept of solar power-trapping roadways is not exactly new, – back in 2014, Netherlands built the world’s first solarized biking trail. The current project, however, is by far the most ambitious. Of the total 1,000 km, every 13 ft (around 4 m) of the solar panel-fitted pathway will generate enough power to meet the energy demands of one household, minus heating. According to the country’s Agency of Environment and Energy Management, 3,281 ft (or 1,000 m) will supply adequate electricity to over 5,000 people.
The roads will be paved with special Wattway panels that are in fact incredibly robust and durable. The result of five long years of research, the panel features a thin layer of pollycrystalline silicon, which in turn harvests solar power with remarkable efficiency. Measuring around 7 mm in thickness, each of these strips can withstand the weight of all kinds of vehicles, including a 6-axle truck. The panels have been designed such that they provide sufficient traction to prevent accidents and skids.
According to Hervé Le Bouc, the head of Colas, the Wattway solar panels have undergone successful testing on a “cycle of one million vehicles, or 20 years of normal traffic a road, and the surface does not move”, and have also passed the so-called snowplow test. Nevertheless, the company recommends using caution and “a bit more care” while operating a snowplow during winter months.
The project will cost around $220 to 440 million (approx. 200 to 300 euros), with the entire money coming from fossil fuel tax. Despite concerns over road safety and cost effectiveness, testing of the solar panels will commence sometime this spring. Where they would be installed, however, has not yet been revealed.
To know more about the Wattway solar panels, click here.