Solar Roads Will Soon Be A Reality In France

France’s Agency Of Environment And Energy Management has just announced plans to test photovoltaic solar panels on about 1,000 kilometers (or 621 miles) of roadway, supplying power to millions of people.

France’s National Institute for Solar Energy (INES) and transport infrastructure company Colas teamed up to produce Wattway, an ultra-thin panel that can be attached to the surface of existing roads.

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Solar panel-paved streets aren’t a totally new idea. In 2014, the Internet went crazy over a crowdfunded solar road campaign that raised more than $2 million, largely through a viral YouTube video:

That campaign, however, met with strong criticism and did not see much interest from American transportation authorities. That same year, though,  the Dutch built a successful solar bike path that has been working better than expected.

According to Colas, the Wattway panels are composed of solar cells layered amongst other materials that provide tire grip. They are apparently safe even in rain and snow—Colas says they passed “the snowplow test with flying colors.” At only 7 millimeters thick, the panels are also built to expand and shrink along with the pavement when the temperature changes, making them more durable. However, there is no information on how the panels will hold up if the asphalt underneath cracks or crumbles.

If successful, the project could provide up to 5 million households with electricity. Colas estimates only 20 square meters of Wattway panels are needed to power an average French home (minus heating), though they are slightly less efficient than conventional rooftop solar panels.

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