Building on the momentum created by last December’s Paris Climate Change Summit, France’s minister of Ecology and Energy recently announced plans to pave 1000 kilometers (621 miles) of road with solar panels over the next five years. These solar roads will be able to provide enough electricity for about 8 percent of the French population, or over 5 million people. They could also power street lights and electric cars.
La route photovoltaïque, innovation française, sera installée sur 1000 km en France. Grands travaux #CPolitiquepic.twitter.com/gGWigRo0SV— Ségolène Royal (@RoyalSegolene) January 31, 2016
The project, known as Wattway, is a collaboration between the National Institute of Solar Energy and Colas, a French civil engineering firm.
Colas won a “Climate Solutions Award” at the Paris climate change conference for the project.
How can roads create clean energy?
The quarter-inch thick solar panels will be glued onto existing roads and are strong enough to withstand bad weather conditions and heavy traffic.
While the panels can’t create energy when cars cover the roads, France’s roadways are only packed for 10 percent of the day, according to Colas.
This means that 90% of the time, these panels will be soaking up the sun and converting it into energy.
Wattway c'est 7 mm d'épaisseur pour des milliers de km d'opportunités. Pas besoin de détruire pour reconstruire #EnRpic.twitter.com/XvChCTexJR— LaRouteSolaire (@WattwaybyColas) October 16, 2015
France isn’t the only country working on this idea.
Last year, the Netherlands paved a 229 ft long bike path with solar panels as a test run for future projects.
In the US, an Idaho-based startup is developing solar powered roads, but France’s effort is unparalleled in its ambition and scale.
Solar roads have the potential to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the if all the roadways in the US were changed to solar roads, the nations could reduce emissions by 75 percent.
Many environmentalists have praised France’s clean energy initiatives but critics point out there are many unanswered questions. It’s yet to be determined if the solar roads will be as efficient or cost-effective as the more common rooftop solar panels. France plans to pay for the panels by raising taxes on fossil fuels, which the minister said was feasible given the currently low cost of oil.
Despite concerns over the project’s success, France plans to move ahead with the solar roads and work to lay down the panels will beginning this spring.
Props to France for showing the world how sustainable energy solutions can work on a larger scale and that their potential is only capped by imagination.
If successful, Wattway could be a game changer in how countries source clean energy.