The world’s first fully-driveable road made out of solar panels has opened in France.
The 0.6-mile stretch, which runs through the municipality of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, is at the beginning of a two-year test run to determine whether it can generate 280 mWh of electricity per year—enough to power streetlights for the entire village—while withstanding vehicle traffic of up to 2,000 vehicles per day.
International engineering firm Colas installed the durable solar-panel technology, which it calls Wattway, with financing from the French Ministry of the Environment. According to Colas, the test road features 2,880 individual solar panels “covered with a resin containing fine sheets of silicon, making them tough enough to withstand all traffic,” from passenger vehicles to freight trucks.
Given the hefty $5.2 million price tag, however, not everyone is sold on the project.
Critics point out that, at this price point, Wattway is 13 times more expensive than traditional rooftop solar panels, which makes even less sense given Normandy’s 44 days of full sun a year compared with more southernly cities like Marseille, which receives 170.
Others point to Wattway’s closest analog, the SolaRoad, a solar bicycle path opened in 2014 in The Netherlands. The $3.7 million it cost to build the 230-by-5.6-foot stretch of bikeable road could have purchased 1.8 megawatts of traditional rooftop solar panels, which over six months could have produced 520,000 kWh of electricity—far more than the 3,000 kWh ultimately generated by SolaRoad during the same time period.
In Wattway’s case, the fiscal inefficiency of durable photovoltaic technologies — damage-resistant products that convert light to electricity — is especially rankling to some due to the involvement of public funds. (SolaRoad was also partially financed by the Dutch government.)