The Wattway Road (a 0.6-mile stretch) has opened its first section in Normandy this week. Over course of the next two years, the road will be tested for its accuracy. According to the France’s Ministry of Environment, Energy and the Sea, they are expecting to generate sufficient power to light the city, which has 5,000 citizens.
France’s minister of Ecology and Energy has announced it will work hard to ensure the country has 621 miles of road with solar panels within the next five years. In fact, the main goal is to provide economical and renewable energy solution to five million people.
This 621 miles road is called as ‘the Wattway.’ The Colas (French road-building company) and the National Institute of Solar Energy have combined their resources to make this unique road in France. Colas has spent more than five years to develop numerous solar panels. According to David Rogers (a reporter for Global Construction Review), these panels are 25-inch thick and they are solid enough to withstand any heavy highway traffic as well. Even they will not make the roads slippery or break them apart completely. Not to mention the panels are designed in a way that you can install them on top of the existing roadways smoothly. Therefore, they are cheap and easy-to-install.
Colas CEO Hervé Le Bouc has talked with Myriam Chauvot who works for the French magazine Les Echoes. During the interview, he said –“There is no need to rebuild infrastructure. At Chambéry and Grenoble, was tested successfully on Wattway a cycle of 1 million vehicles, or 20 years of normal traffic a road, and the surface does not move.”
According to Fiona MacDonald of ScienceAlert, the solar panels are made of a thin polycrystalline silicon film. They are coated with a layer of resin, which will give the much-needed endurance and strength to the panels. Since the panels are thin, they are adaptable to the tiny changes on the surface of the pavement for the slight temperature shifts. Even Colas has remarked that the panels are snowplow-proof, making them more endurable than any other solar panels.
Now, France is not only the first country to have its own solar panel roads. In 2015, the Netherlands opened a 229-foot-long road, paved with solar panels. This road is a test road for future projects. Even a couple from Idaho launched a Kickstarter project in 2014 and raised $2 million. They got a contract from Federal Highway Administration to create their own solar roadways. In comparison to these roads, the solar panel road in France has been the first project where the solar panels have been laid directly on the top of the prevailing roads.
Many environmentalists have pointed that building roads with solar panels is an exciting idea. According to Colas, the mastermind behind the project has said that with 215 square feet of Wattway is more than sufficient to provide power to a single French home. However, some researchers have been skeptical about the idea. They have said that solar roads are more efficient and more economical than these rooftop solar panel roads.
There reasoning behind this statement is the photovoltaic glass will have difficulties in competing with the cheaper asphalt. Andrew Thomson has pointed out that the rooftop panels are better suited for possible sunlight. Additionally, the solar roadways are more slippery than traditional roadways. Therefore, there remains a safety concern regardless of the amount of power it generates. Here is what he exactly said – “For solar roadways to be effective, it needs a complete technological rethink.”
As of now, the authorities have been moving with this project and they will start laying the foundation of Wattway Road in spring.