Solar-powered road in Normandy, France

The road has been developed by an Anglo-French construction company Colas

The French government has opened a solar-powered road in Normandy, setting a new benchmark in solar power application. The road stretches 1 km and comprises 2,800 square metres of solar photovoltaic cells. The panels have been covered with resin containing fine sheets of silicon, making them tough to withstand the pressure of the traffic passing on the road.

The road has been developed by an Anglo-French construction company Colas, which has been working on a solar road solution called Wattway for the past five years. The solution has already been tested in parking lots at about 100 locations. However, the road in Normandy is the first active road on which the solution has been deployed. The solar-powered road will undergo testing for two years to study the impact of traffic on the road and the amount of electricity it is capable of generating.

While the solution is quite novel, it costs an exorbitant Euro 5 million to build the road. According to the company, the efficiency of the panels is about 15 per cent. At this level, the road is expected to power only street lights in the village where it is situated. The power output of the road may not justify the cost associated with it. In fact, maintaining the efficiency of panels will also be challenging given that they have been installed flat on the ground instead of being angled towards the sun’s trajectory, which can significantly reduce the efficiency at higher latitudes. Moreover, heavy traffic, snow, mud and standing water could block the sunlight, further reducing the efficiency.

Similar attempts have been made in the past as well. In 2014, a solar-powered cycle path was set up in Krommenie, Netherlands. Despite teething problems, the track has been able to generate 3,000 kWh of energy to power an average family home for a year. However, the cost of building the cycle path has deterred further development.

While the solution demonstrates the increasing use of solar energy for various applications, it is less likely to be scaled up as compared to the other given the enormous cost associated with it. Nonetheless, such innovations are indicative of the huge interest that solar energy is garnering world over. The solution could see the light of the day if the costs can be scaled down significantly.

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