France has recently decided to start building a new endeavor: a 1,000-kilometer long solar road. The project, formally called “Wattway,” is a joint effort by the National Institute of Solar Energy and the French civil engineering firm Colas.(1) According to Colas,, “one kilometer is enough to power public lighting for a city of 5,000 people, and 20 square meters of Wattway can power a single French home.”(2).

Watt is Wattway?

By gluing 7-millimeter-thick photovoltaic panels to existing streets, France hopes to create a firmer foundation for renewable energy. (2)These panels will be durable to handle terrible weather and traffic conditions while collecting solar power. (1)  A thin layer of polycrystalline silicon converts the solar energy to electricity, producing enough energy to power street lamps, traffic lights, and electric cars.

 Solar panels used to make Wattway

Solar panels used to make Wattway

The innovative idea of solar roads was introduced by the Netherlands. The Dutch SolaRoad project incorporated a 229 foot path solar-paneled bike path in 2014.(4) The SolaRoads have produced more electricity than expected, but at a costly price. While the he road is able to produce enough electricity to power  three houses, the estimated cost is a soaring 3.7 million USD. (3) The amount of electricity produced by the path is approximately $2,000, raising  the question of whether or not the costs of solar roads outweigh the benefits.

Is this viable?

The Wattway project would take an approximate 5 years to be completed, but  would serve a function that lasts far into the future. As the Wattway  will utilize new technology,the price cannot be determined yet or compared to the price of SolaRoads. (3) There are many concerns that remain unaddressed such as the cost of maintenance and safety of workers during installation.(5) Wattway will begin construction this Spring, and the results will play a large role in influencing other countries’ ideas of  solar roads.

The applications  of solar road technology are limitless and have the potential to impact our everyday lives. But while it helps solve the crisis of reusable energy,there is still a long way to go. The opportunity cost of solar roads remains questionable, but with further operations it could be a useful alternative to our limited energy options.

Amani Ramiz is a freshman from Brown College at Rice University.

Resources

1. Cowan, S. France’s Road of the Future Is Paved With Solar Panels. http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/02/08/france-solar-road  (accessed 2/12/16), part of Takepart

2. Spector, J. Coming Soon to France: Hundreds of Miles of Solar-Powered Roads. http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/02/08/france-solar-road (accessed 2/12/16), part of CityLab

3. McDonald, M. France To Build 621 Miles Of Solar Roads. http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Solar-Energy/France-To-Build-621-Miles-Of-Solar-Roads.html (accessed 2/12/16), part of Oilprice

4. Meyers, G. Dutch Solar Bike Path Produces More Electricity Than Expected. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/05/29/dutch-solar-bike-path-pleases-many/ (accessed 2/12/16), part of Clean Technica

5. Is the Solar Road Concept Viable? http://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-news/solar-roads-viability-em5334/ (accessed 2/12/16), part of Energy Matters

 

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