The World’s First Solar Road Has Officially Crumbled Into a Total Failure
In July, the French daily newspaper Le Monde reported that the 0.6-mile (1 kilometre) solar road was a fiasco.
In December 2016, when the trial road was unveiled, the French Ministry of the Environment called it “unprecedented”. French officials said the road, made of photovoltaic panels, would generate electricity to power streetlights in Tourouvre, a local town.
But less than three years later, a report published by Global Construction Review says France’s road dream may be over. Cracks have appeared, and in 2018, part of the road had to be demolished due to damage from wear and tear.
Even at its peak, the road was only producing half of the expected energy, because engineers didn’t take into consideration rotting leaves falling on the road.
Here what the road looked like in all of its former glory, and how it got to this point.
It was all smiles and high hopes in 2016, when the world’s first solar panel road, called Wattway, opened. France spent US$5.2 million on 0.6 miles (1 kilometre) of road, and 30,000 square feet (3,000 square metres) of solar panels. It was hailed as the longest solar road in the world.
Media gathered around to take a walk down what was thought to be the road of the future. The French minister for energy said she wanted to have solar panels on one mile of road every 621 miles in the country within the next five years.
Despite grey skies on the day of the inauguration, France was leading the world for solar transportation.
But the brake was never removed, and the wheels never started rolling – so to speak.
It was a bold move beginning a solar panel trial in Normandy, France, since the region doesn’t have the most sunshine. Caen, a city in Normandy, only has 44 days of strong sunshine in a year. Thunderstorms also reportedly broke solar panels on the road.
The trial road was meant to produce about 150,000 kWh a year, which is enough power to provide light for up to 5,000 people, every day. Instead, it was making just under 80,000 in 2018, and fewer than 40,000 by July 2019.
Colas, the company that built the road, said in 2016 that the solar panels were covered with resin containing sheets of silicon to make them capable of withstanding all traffic. But since the opening, panels have come loose or broken into little pieces.
In May 2018, 300 feet (90 metres) of the road had to be demolished since it wasn’t salvageable.
The engineers also didn’t take into account the effects of leaves, which caused damage and limited the amount of electricity the panels could produce. They also didn’t think about the pressure and weight from tractors, two locals told Le Monde.
And now the trial looks like it’s all over. Wattway’s managing director Etienne Gaudin told Le Monde that it would not be going to market.
“Our system is not mature on long distance traffic,” he said. The company would focus on creating electricity for smaller things, like CCTV cameras and lighting bus shelters.