French solar road comes online

France this week took the first step in its plan, announced in February 2016, to pave 1000 km of its roads and streets with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

A 1 km stretch of the RD5 road in the village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, which has been covered with 2800 m2 of PV panels, was officially opened by ecology minister Ségolène Royal on Thursday.

The single-lane solar surface will now be tested for two years and is expected to power street lighting in the 3400-resident village. Developer Colas, a transport infrastructure company, claims the solar road is a world first.

Critics have pointed to the project’s cost (€5m, $5.2m) in relation to its current power price of €17/kWp, as compared to €1.30/kWp for rooftop PV. Colas says it aims to make its technology cost-competitive by 2020.

The technology is the result of a five-year collaboration between Colas and France’s Institute National de l’Energie Solaire (INES). According to Colas, installation involves simply sticking the PV panels to the road surface, without the need for civil engineering work.

The company says its Wattway road surface is composed of solar cells in superposed layers that ensure resistance and tyre grip and are just 7 mm thick, adding that the surface can adapt to thermal dilation in the pavement as well as the weight of vehicles.

A second trial project, which aims to cover a 29 km stretch of the US state of Georgia’s interstate highway system with the Wattway panels, is currently underway.




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