France’s Road of the Future Is Paved With Solar Panels

The power-producing road will provide electricity to 8 percent of the French population.
(Photo: Joachim-Bertrand/Courtesy Colas)
Feb 8, 2016
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Known for its historic cobblestone paths and traffic-jammed streets, France forgoes traditional bricks and pavement for shiny solar panels with its new roadway project.

French officials announced plans to construct a 1,000-kilometer-long (621-mile-long) solar roadway, with each kilometer capable of providing enough clean energy to power 5,000 homes.

“The maximum effect of the program, if successful, could be to furnish 5 million people with electricity, or about 8 percent of the French population,” Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology and energy, said at a conference, reports Global Construction Review.

The street—or “Wattway”—is a collaboration between the National Institute of Solar Energy and French civil engineering firm Colas. Tests for the road will begin in the spring.

The entire project will take an estimated five years to complete, but builders won’t have to yank up existing roads in the meantime. The photovoltaic cells can simply be glued on top of existing streets and are durable enough to withstand heavy traffic and weather conditions.

Despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic Parisians associate with their daily commute, the average French roadway is packed for only 10 percent of the day, according to Colas’ figures. That will leave the solar street with the majority of the day to gather energy from the sun. The panels collect solar power through a thin layer of polycrystalline silicon and convert it into electricity. Electrical connections can be integrated into existing traffic structures such as ducts and gutters.

While that energy can then be used to power French homes, the Wattway can also power streetlamps, traffic lights, and even electric cars.

France won’t be the first country to roll out a solar road. A 70-meter solar bike path was installed in the Netherlands in 2014 and has proved successful, with the path creating enough energy to power a house for an entire year within six months of installation.

A husband-and-wife team who garnered more than $2 million in a crowdfunding campaign in 2014 hopes to turn every roadway in America into a power-producing solar street. They too are still in the testing phase.

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