energy technology transport

France to build 1,000 km of solar roads

solar road wattwayA couple of years ago I wrote about solar roadways and a couple with a vision for covering all of America’s roads with solar panels. It’s a slightly bizarre idea. I can see the use of ground installed solar panels, but really – roads? There’s no shortage of places to put solar panels where they won’t be run over by heavy goods vehicles.

Still, it appears that solar roads are going to be a reality, though possibly not with that particular husband and wife team. French engineering giant Colas seems to have beaten them to it, announcing last week that it is to install their new Wattway photovoltaic surface to 1,000 km of roads.

The Wattway panels can be stuck down to existing roads, so they are relatively easy to install. They are durable and offer a good driving surface, and can generate electricity during the 90% of the time that roads aren’t occupied by traffic. 20 square metres of panels is enough to provide power to a household, so the whole 1,000 kilometres will be a major piece of energy infrastructure – energy for 5 million people.

An inspiring video, but I’m still not sold on the roads bit. If roofs are not enough then why not solar pavements, or town squares. Maybe you could pave playgrounds or basketball courts with solar panels, or even railway platforms? Actual roads themselves still seems like the least appropriate place to put solar panels, and an unnecessary engineering challenge.

But presumably Colas have a plan that makes it economical or they wouldn’t bother, so I shall have to wait and see.


  1. Perhaps, long term, roads for traffic are deemed to be at less threat of being dispensed with or changed for other purposes? Just a thought. Or perhaps some foresight connected with electric cars? Ok. just guessing, but, it would be interesting to know why.

    1. The argument they make is that by putting them on roads, they are freeing up agricultural land. That would make more sense if we’d already put solar panels everywhere else, but it seems like there are plenty of easier options to try before we get to this point.

      Perhaps in future solar roads and wireless charging for electric vehicles could be combined. That would be a useful idea, but even there you could presumably put the panels on the hard shoulder and the verge.

      But like I say, it’s up to Colas to show us it works. If they’ve got something durable enough and it’s easy to fit, good for them.

  2. Somewhat relevant to this discussion is the fact that Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line’ has an interesting feature on renewable energy this week. The industry expert guests say that there is enough roof area to meet all UK’s electricity needs through PV.

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