There will be some hiccups on our path to a more environmentally-friendly future. Some hiccups, like exploding electric cars, will be bigger than others. So, I’m willing to excuse France for the very, very predictable failure of their solar panel road.
On the off chance you have not been thinking about the solar panel road — cheekily dubbed Wattway — over the last several years, allow me to refresh your memory. In 2016, the French government in conjunction with the company Colas built a one-kilometre long road covered in solar panels in a small village in Normandy for $US5.2 ($8) million. Protected with silicon and resin, the thinking went it could withstand the punishment from thousands upon thousands of vehicles while generating electricity for nearby homes. Pretty neat!
I am absolutely going to speak for the rest of our staff when I say we are enthusiastic about finding a path to a sustainable energy future, including other ways to generate power from roads. But of all the places to put solar panels — expensive, fragile, solar panels that need to be angled towards a bright, shining sun — on a road in Normandy is not exactly the first place that comes to mind. We even ran a story back in 2014 about how solar panel roads are a bad idea for all the reasons you’d expect.
But you’re just a bunch of dumb bloggers, you’re probably thinking. And you’re right. But at least in this case, these dumb bloggers were onto something. The solar panel road was a bad idea.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported that, after two and a half years, some things have gone wrong:
The road had to be shortened by 100 meters because a portion was too damaged to be repaired
The protective resin is peeling off the portion that remains
Leaves and trees fall onto the panels and, you know, block the sunlight
The noise from cars and trucks driving over the panels is so loud the speed limit had to be reduced to about 72km per hour
It is generating less than half of the electricity expected because the panels could not be angled directly at the sun and Normandy isn’t exactly known for its year-round sunshine
Science is hard, and you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take. Hopefully the next one works out a little better.