Solar panel roads are set to pave the way to a more eco-friendly future, as the world’s first ones have been built in France. They are intended to power the street lights and help drive more affordable solar energy into the mainstream.
More such roads are being planned across the world, potentially turning our planet’s surface into a self-sustaining battery. Of course, there are downsides to this plan.
Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France, is the first to play host to this new technology, and it comes with a hefty price tag. The 30 thousand square feet of solar panels lining the streets cost $5.2 million. It may pay off in the next decade, but it’s too early to tell. In order to work, the road may need to be cleaned regularly to maintain maximum effectiveness. Any part which isn’t collecting solar power is essentially money wasted, and even a patch of mud could reduce this effectiveness.
This novel approach, in theory, ends up using more available space than solar roof panels, and technology has improved over the past decades to make smaller panels even more effective. However, they might not withstand regular traffic, which is why the roads will be coated with a silicone resin which helps them absorb the weight of 18-wheeler trucks.
That is also one of the biggest problems with solar panel roads. The sheer space one of those trucks blocks off limits how much solar power actually reaches them. Too much traffic could essentially render them pointless, so we probably shouldn’t expect to see them in the streets in places like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Those roads are most likely going to see more undersides of vehicles than sunlight.
The Verge pointed out that roads are generally too level as well, and less effective than ones installed on a slope. The Sun has to hit them at the right angle to give the most energy, and roads are less likely than roofs to achieve this.
Colas, the state-funded company which is creating the solar energy devices, is hoping that the long-term money saved will offset the cost. Technically, it’s possible. When the compact disc was invented in an industry dominated by cassette tapes, it took a while for them to go mainstream. The same thing happened with DVD and Blu-Ray discs. The consumer had to be convinced that the new format was more agreeable and worth trading up with new devices to utilize them.
A new trend today is facing the same reasoning. 4K Ultra HDTVs are slowly becoming a mainstream success.
Solar panels still haven’t proven to the majority of people that they can be a cost-effective source of renewable energy. In highly forested areas or those often buffered with storms or rain, solar panel roads could be a waste of money. As the Guardian states, Normandy isn’t known to see a lot of sunlight, so this is mostly a test to see if the long-term energy provided will be enough to offset the cost.
This test will allegedly be in effect for the next two years, and if proven effective, could tie in with an influx of electric self-driving cars expected by 2020. That could also be a problem, as electric cars could be more of a drain on the world’s crumbling infrastructure, and solar panels might not generate enough electricity for them.
Of course, with problems like the one facing Uber in San Francisco, it could be a while before even self-driving cars go mainstream. It might be more environmentally friendly, but it has to be proven effective.
Do you think solar panel roads could pay off in the next few years?
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