Green light given as 1km solar panel road opens in Normandy

22 Dec 2016

Image: Pakhnyushchy/Shutterstock

The first solar panel road has been opened in France, with the trial in Normandy potentially leading to a wide-scale expansion in years to come.

Claiming it to be a world first, France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, today (22 December) opened a 1km stretch of solar-panelled road in Tourouvre-au-Perche, Normandy.

Coated with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, the project will be an interesting one to follow, after a similarly themed cycle lane was opened in the Netherlands last year.

Costing the French state €5m to construct, the positioning of the road is somewhat surprising, coming in the more sheltered north of France, rather than the sun-drenched south.

According to The Connexion, a sister scheme to develop road-ready photovoltaic panels at the Société Nouvelle Areacem factory in the area “has already received €5m in state aid”.

At the start of 2016, Royal claimed she wanted 1,000km of roads covered in solar panels, though the return on investment remains unclear.

Colas is a company involved in the project, with its head of science and technology, Jean-Luc Gauthier, arguing the logic behind drawing power from roads earlier this year.

“The road spends 90pc of its time exposed to the sky and radiance [from the sun], making it an ideal surface for developing energy appliances,” he said in January.

But according to The Guardian, the Dutch example has not been a resounding success. The cycle path, although smaller, has so far generated 3,000 kWh of energy.

Though this is enough to power a home for one year, “the cost of building the cycle path […] could have paid for 520,000 kWh”.

Solar is a key area of interest in the energy community in 2016, with investment figures soaring, especially in the US. In November, Siemens took a punt on blockchain’s suitability for a management system of a solar microgrid in New York.

Julia Hamm, CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, told about the growing impact that renewables, and solar power in general, are having on the US power grid.

Renewable energy production is growing at around 30pc every year in the US. Solar farms are growing, public interest is growing and traditional energy production is being phased out.

Meanwhile, ESB recently invested €2.5m for a stake in start-up Terra Solar to help accelerate the development and growth of solar energy in Ireland.

Following the investment, the two businesses claimed to have the potential to deliver over 260MW of electricity generation capacity from solar energy, which would power over 50,000 homes every year.

Were streets and paths proven to compete with modern, roof-top equivalents, then partnerships and investments would rise even higher.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic