France is hoping to literally pave its way to a brighter future by installing solar panels on top of its existing roadways.

Pont de Normandie, France
Pont de Normandie, France

The project involves laying photovoltaic strips across more than 600 miles of roads as part of a pilot scheme supported by the French government. As well as powering street lighting and homes, the new Wattway solar roads should also prove an attraction in their own right as visitors flock to see the latest innovations in eco-power.

Eco-tourism has already proved a boon in Iceland, where geothermal power stations – which draw their energy directly from the earth – have become some of the country’s biggest tourist draws. The French solar project, at its simplest, involves gluing quarter inch solar energy panelling on the top of an already existing road. The key to its success will of course be durability and the manufacturers say it has been designed to withstand the pounding of lorries and other heavy traffic.

The first stage of the project involves covering around 1,000 kilometres of roadway, with every 20 metre square segment providing enough power for a single family home. “Wattway produces electrical energy without overtaking farmland or natural landscapes,” said Colas, the company behind the innovation. “Roads are only occupied by vehicles 10% of the time. Imagine the solar resources of this surface area, facing the sky.” The company said installation requires no special civil engineering work with the new solar generating surface put in place directly on the existing road. The panels are also rainproof and can adapt to the normal expansion and contraction that happens on a road as the temperature changes. “A one kilometre stretch of road paved with Wattway can provide the electricity to power public lighting in a city of 5,000 inhabitants,” the company said. No details have been provided as yet on whereabouts in France the pilot project will take place or indeed its likely costs.

A similar project – albeit much smaller in scope – was trialled successfully in the Netherlands in 2014 when a small area of bike path called the SolaRoad was converted into a power generator.

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