Solar panel-covered highway is expected to generate power for street lighting in a small town in Normandy. France plans to build more roads of this type, with Germany and the United States testing similar projects.
France inaugurated on Thursday (22/12) the first solar road in the world. The highway is paved with solar panels capable of providing electricity for street lighting in Tourouvre, a small town of 5,000 inhabitants in the northwest of the country in the Normandy region.
The one-kilometer stretch covered with 2.8 square meters of resin-coated solar panels was connected to the local power grid, according to French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal.
“This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large stretches of road infrastructure already in use to produce energy without taking up new spaces,” Royal said in a statement.
The minister announced a four-year plan for the “development of solar roads,” with initial projects in Brittany in the west and Marseilles in the south of the country.
An average of 2,000 cars travel by road in Tourouvre daily, testing the resistance of the panels for the project developed by the French civil engineering company Colas, a subsidiary of the construction giant Bouygues.
The idea, which is also being explored in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, is that the roads are occupied by cars in only 20% of the time, offering vast expanses of surface to absorb the sun’s rays.
In Germany, energy innovation is undergoing testing on a 150-meter stretch near the western city of Cologne. In the United States, the state of Missouri works in the installation of panels in a small area near the famous Route 66, the road that crosses the country.
Colas says that in theory, France could become independent from non-renewable energy by paving only a quarter of its millions of kilometers of solar-powered roads.
Reviews for “solar road”
The project has been the target of criticism from several environmental organizations that consider its cost of 5 million euros exaggerated for the amount of energy it can produce.
“It is certainly a technical breakthrough, but to develop renewable energy there are other priorities than this toy that we know is very expensive, but it does not work well,” Le Monde, vice president of the Energy Transition Network CLER), Marc Jedliczka.
The price of kilowatt produced in this solar road reaches 17 euros, compared to 1.3 euros for the generation of a photovoltaic plant – which produces volts of energy through sunlight – on a roof. The experts point out that inclined facilities are more efficient in producing electricity, a disadvantage of this initiative because it is in a horizontal position.
Those responsible for the project maintain that the stretch opened today is proof that the price of infrastructure will decrease as demand increases, which will also lower the cost of energy produced. By 2020, they said, the price of kilowatt produced on a solar road will be similar to that of another solar power plant.