Solar Roadways: Are They Really A Practical Solution?

Renewable energy and green concepts continue to make headlines around the world. Manufacturers are working vigorously to become more sustainable and politicians and regulations continue to incentivise the development of new green technology. The United States has made a strong effort to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions but there’s more work to be done. Businesses and policymakers are searching for innovative ways to create a more sustainable country and France may have some valuable input.

France just spent $5.2 million to “pave” 1 km of road with Wattway solar panels. Located in the northern village of Tourouvre-au-Perche, the highway will be able to generate up to 800 kWh of energy every day. The hope is to generate enough electricity to power the village’s streetlights.

Though these specialized Polycrystalline cells are less efficient than conventional rooftop PV panels, about 5% less efficient, they were designed to stand up to the harsh environment of being located on an active highway. They also cost about four times as much as rooftop or ground-mounted PV arrays. This is an incredibly expensive project, but one that may lead to further developments in the future.

France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, has pledged to build over 1,000km of solar road in the country over the next five years. This experiment may actually be beneficial to the United States in a couple ways. First, the U.S. will be able to see the ROI of these costly projects while at the same time being able to study what impact a project of this scale can have on the economy as a whole. A project like this will call for new jobs and an increase in orders from the manufacturers behind the solar cells. Furthermore, any growing pains experienced by the initiative will be able to be observed, studied and analyzed.

Few are convinced this kind of clean energy project will be a practical solution. Rooftop solar panels and ground-mounted systems have been proven to work well and solar energy has dramatically dropped in price. It’s exciting to see new developments on the clean energy front, but only time will tell if this new technology is as practical as it is interesting.



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