France officially opened the world's first solar panel road this week. It features 2,880 solar panels over 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The energy efficient road was built with Colas' Wattway technology, which is installed directly on existing pavement. It's designed to provide enough energy to power street lighting for the 3,400-person village in Normandy. However, critics and supporters are waiting to see if the highway can meet expectations.
With a construction cost of €5 million (about $5.2 million), this initial two-year testing phase is vital to measuring the success of the project. The elevated cost is partially owed to the clear silicon resin coating used to enhance the durability of the panels. And with 2,000 vehicle estimated to pass over the solar road over the next 2 years, durability is the second factor—after output—that officials will be looking to in order to gauge the project's success.
And even though the Normandy region isn't exactly known for its sunshine, Wattway director Jean-Charles Broizat remains optimistic. “We are still on an experimental phase. Building a trial site of this scale is a real opportunity for our innovation. This trial site has enabled us to improve our photovoltaic panel installing process as well as their manufacturing, in order to keep on optimizing our innovation.”
On the other hand, Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of Network for Energetic Transition, remains cautious about the technology, given the costs. Speaking with Le Monde, he says, “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.”
Whether it's a success or failure is yet to be seen. One thing is certain though: the introduction of the world's first solar road is certainly another step in a positive direction toward higher usage of renewable, clean energy worldwide.