Innovative solar panel roads underway in four continents

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Solar panel road
Source: Wattway

Electric avenues that can transmit the sun’s energy onto power grids may be coming to a city near you, reports Bloomberg.

According to the news media, a subsidiary of Bouygues SA has designed rugged solar panels, capable of withstanding the weight of an 18-wheeler truck, that they’re now building into road surfaces.

It said after nearly five years of research and laboratory tests, they’re constructing 100 outdoor test sites and plan to commercialize the technology in early 2018, with an undisclosed African country possibly getting one of such.

“We wanted to find a second life for a road,” said Philippe Harelle, the chief technology officer at Colas SA’s Wattway unit, which is owned by the French engineering group Bouygues.

Harelle stated: “Solar farms use land that could otherwise be for agriculture, while the roads are free.”

Solar costs are dropping down drastically, and panels are being increasingly integrated into everyday materials.

America’s Tesla Motors Inc. recently unveiled roof tiles that double as solar panels. Other companies are integrating photovoltaics into building facades.

Wattway thus joins groups including Sweden’s Scania and Solar Roadways in the U.S. seeking to integrate panels onto pavement.

To resist the weight of traffic, Bloomberg explained that Wattway layers several types of plastics to create a clear and durable casing and the solar panel underneath is an ordinary model, similar to panels on rooftops while the electrical wiring is embedded in the road and the contraption is topped by an anti-slip surface made from crushed glass.

According to the company, a kilometer-sized testing site began construction last month in the French village of Tourouvre in Normandy. The 2,800 square meters of solar panels are expected to generate 280 kilowatts at peak, with the installation generating enough to power all the public lighting in a town of 5,000 for a year.

It stated that for now, the cost of the materials makes only demonstration projects sensible. A square meter of the solar panel road currently costs 2,000 ($2,126) and 2,500 euros. That includes monitoring, data collection and installation costs. Wattway says it can make the price competitive with traditional solar farms by 2020.

The next two sites, it noted will be in Calgary in Canada and in the U.S. state of Georgia. Wattway also plans to build them in Africa, Japan and throughout the European Union.

“We need to test for all kinds of different traffic and climate conditions. I want to find the limits of it. We think that maybe it will not be able to withstand a snow plow,” Harelle said.

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