The French Government has announced it will pave 1000 kilometres of road with photovoltaic cells, generating energy for five million people.
A collaboration between the French National Institute of Solar Energy and construction company Colas, the project is the largest undertaking to date to lay solar cells on public roads, and will take five years to complete. The builders say it will provide renewable energy to eight per cent of France’s population, or about one household per metre.
The solar panels are stronger and more durable than usual, thanks to the latest technology. Each 7mm-thick, 15cm-long panel is made from a thin film of polycrystalline silicon, coated in a strengthening resin.
The panels have been tested and shown to be able to withstand one million truck tyre passes without a scratch of damage to the cells or the vehicles.
Weatherproof, waterproof, and able to adapt to rapidly changing local temperatures, the cells can be placed across existing road. This means the pre-existing infrastructure will not need to be ripped up or modified, making the panels remarkably cost-effective.
There are some doubters and the panels currently have slightly less capacity than conventional panels and will require time-consuming manual labour to connect them to the electricity grid.
Similar experiments in other countries include a 70-metre bike path in the Netherlands that has been operating since 2014, and plans for solar roads in the US that would provide power and melt snow.
We will watch with interest.