France Debuts World’s First Solar Panel Road in Normandy

Wattway / Wattway

A one-kilometer stretch of road in the French town of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy is officially the world’s first public “Wattway.” As France 24 reports, the solar panel road was opened by French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal on Thursday, December 22.

The panels cover 30,000 square feet of roadway and have been reinforced with layers of plastic to support the roughly 2000 cars that use the road each day. It can generate up to 280 kilowatts of energy, which will be used to power the town’s street lights.

The project is a big step forward for sustainable energy, and Colas, the company behind the solar road, is optimistic about what lies ahead. As of November, the company plans to build similar sites in North America, Europe, Africa, and Japan.

But there are still several challenges to overcome before solar roadways go mainstream, the biggest of which is expense. Normandy’s Wattway required $5.2 million to build, which means that each kilowatt peak it produces costs $17.74 compared to the $1.36 per kilowatt cost of a conventional solar roof. Colas representatives say they're working on ways to make the roads cheaper, and Ecology Minister Royal says “the costs will be driven sharply down" as more of these roads are built, according to France 24. Royal's hope is that before long, France will reach the point where every 1000 kilometers of highway contains at least one kilometer of solar cells.

[h/t France 24]