The world’s first solar road has been opened in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France.
French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal officially inaugurated the Just one kilometer (0.6 mile) long roadway that still works out at 2,800 square meters of photo-voltaic cells and could generate enough electricity to power the village’s street lights in Normandy on Thursday, Official Said.
— Ségolène Royal (@RoyalSegolene) December 22, 2016
“This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use to produce electricity without taking up new real estate,” Royal said in a statement.
The French Ministry of the Environment funded €5 million ($5.2 million) for the 1-km (0.6 mile) roadway project to test for a single lane of a two-lane highway. Whether this project results effectively then solar panels can be implemented at a large scale.
French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal has said The French government plans to eventually pave 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of its roads with solar panels. 1,000 kilometers of solar roads would provide electricity to around 5 million people – about 8 percent of France’s population.
About 2,000 motorists will drive on the roadway during a test period of two years to see if the project can generate enough energy to power street lights for the 3,400-resident village. The panels consist of extremely thin yet durable panels of poly-crystalline silicon that can transform solar energy into electricity.
Colas, a large Anglo-French construction company built The road. Colas has also been working on its own solar road tech, called Wattway, for at least five years. Wattway has been tested in car parks, but this is the first time it has been used on an active road. There will now be a two-year test period, to check whether it can actually provide a useful amount of electricity.
The Wattway is projected to produce 280 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy annually, with an estimated electrical output of 767 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day.
The Ministry of the Environment says that’s enough to provide public lighting for a population of 5,000, so provided the weather cooperates, Tourouvre-au-Perche’s 3,400 residents should have their nights lit up by the Sun from now on.
An experimental site that launched earlier this month in the U.S. The site consists of of 50 square meters of Wattway solar panels installed at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in West Point, Georgia.
According to Colas, the solar panels used have been covered in a silicon-based resin that allows them to withstand the weight of passing big rigs, and if the road performs as expected, Royal wants to see solar panels installed across 1,000 kilometers of French highway. The panels are designed to withstand all types of traffic, including heavy-duty vehicles and in terms of efficiency.
There are number of issues, however. One drawback of the highway system is that solar panels are more effective when angled towards the sun, typically on slanted rooftops, than when they are laid on a flat surface like a road and they’re also massively more expensive than traditional panels. Colas, the company that installed the road, hopes to the cost of operating them has come down significantly and it has around 100 solar panel road projects in progress around the world.
Another company Solar-Roadway is looking at building roads with solar panels, and it installed a small number of panels at the Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway, Missouri earlier this year. Still, they’re facing the same Angled and cost problems as Colas and the French.
“Roads spend 90 percent of their time just looking up into the sky. When the sun shines, they are of course exposed to its rays,” Jean-Lic Gautier, manager of the Center for Expertise at the Colas Campus for Science and Techniques, said in a statement last year. “It’s an ideal surface area for energy applications.”