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The first ever solar panel road opens in France.

This could be the road of the future. A kilometre-long stretch of photovoltaic panels on a B-road in the small Norman commune of Tourouvre-au-Perche (3,400 inhabitants), in the Orne region, has become the world's first ever solar panel road.

 

A 5-million-euro State grant

 

This innovative infrastructure was inaugurated by the French Environment Minister, Ségolène Royal, at the end of December. The Wattway project, driven by public works company Colas (from the Bouygues group) and the INES (French National Institute for Solar Energy), in association with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the University of Savoie, cost 5 million euros and was paid for by State grant. It required five years of research and tests.

Photovoltaic panels shaped like tiles are fixed to the asphalt, covering a surface of 2,800m2. Inside the panels, the current-generating sheets of silicone are surrounded by a protective resin that makes them "able to withstand all types of vehicle traffic, including heavy goods vehicles," said the Wattway's partners to Le Monde, before assuring that the surface provides the right grip for tyres.

 

 

Public lighting for a town with 5,000 inhabitants

 

The electricity produced is sent to the local distribution network via a direct connection. According to Colas, one kilometre of road equipped with these panels can supply enough electricity for the public lighting of a town with 5,000 inhabitants. The advantage of the system is that it produces electricity without occupying a "useful" surface such as agricultural land or natural spaces.

"The solar panel road is in keeping with energy transition: it promises eco-friendly growth, job creation and innovation," delighted Ségolène Royal at the launch of the site, last October. But for some, this technology still needs to prove itself, in particular with regard to its cost-effectiveness.  

The real resistance of the panels to traffic as well as the production cost of the tiles (17 times higher than the solar energy produced by the panels when fitted to the road surface) raise many questions. The road in Normandy is a test site and Wattway's managers hope to quickly reduce the production costs in order to commercialise their product. Furthermore, the system has already been tested on smaller stretches of road, namely in the United States, in Berlin (Germany) and in Amsterdam (Netherlands)

 

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