French officials have opened the world’s first solar road in the region of Normandy, unveiling a 1-kilometre-long route covered in 2,880 photovoltaic panels.
The trial roadway, called Wattway, passes through the small town of Tourouvre-au-Perche. It’s expected to be used by approximately 2,000 motorists daily during a two-year test period, to see just how much electricity it can generate.
The project was financed by the French Ministry of the Environment and built by engineering firm Colas, and initial estimates of the power output suggest the Wattway will generate more than enough electricity to run all of Tourouvre-au-Perche’s street lights.
The Wattway is projected to produce 280 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy annually, with an estimated electrical output of 767 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day.
The Ministry of the Environment says that’s enough to provide public lighting for a population of 5,000, so provided the weather cooperates, Tourouvre-au-Perche’s 3,400 residents should have their nights lit up by the Sun from now on.
But while the accomplishment may be unprecedented, critics say the cost of building the Wattway at €5 million doesn’t add up, pointing out that the energy produced by the solar road costs 13 times as much as building rooftop panels.
Part of this is attributable to the Wattway’s unique construction, which has been engineered to withstand being driven over repeatedly by cars and large trucks. The panels are covered with a resin containing sheets of silicon, so they can survive heavy traffic.