Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kerouac Would Approve

(Ars technica image)
In news that you may have missed, the village of Tourouvre au Perche in Normandy, France has opened a 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) "solar road" built out of solar panels:
The roadway is just one kilometre (0.6mi) long, but that still works out at 2,800 square metres of photovoltaic cells—enough, hopefully, to power the village's street lights.
At a cost of €5 million (currently US $5.3 million), the uneconomical "Wattway" is a demonstration project:
There will now be a two-year test period, to see if Wattway can withstand the rigour of being pounded by thousands of cars and trucks per day, and whether it can actually provide a useful amount of electricity.

Usefulness aside, the main problem with constructing solar roads is their crippling cost. One of the main selling points of Wattway, according to Colas, is that each panel is just a few millimetres thick, and can thus be installed on top of an existing road, which in turn massively reduces construction costs. Having said that, the 1km road in Normandy cost €5 million (£4.3m) to build. And that's for a single lane of a two-lane highway!
There are clearly engineering obstacles--not only the vehicular pounding but also problems that are foreseeable with solar energy, such as dirt, snow, and other sunblocking materials and cloudy weather--but we applaud the experiment.

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