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Photovoltaic roads: a very bright idea!

Posted on 20 April 2016.

Have you ever heard of solar roads? It’s the name the technology developed by Colas and INES for photovoltaic roads that generate electricity.

One kilometer of road could provide lighting for a town of five thousand people.

The project hinged on two observations: the ever increasing global demand for energy, and the only partial use of roads. In France, for example, vehicles use the roads for on average only 10% of the time. Together they sparked a really bright idea! Why not use these vast surfaces that face the sun to generate electricity?

For five years, Colas and INES (France’s national institute of solar energy) combined road construction techniques and photovoltaic production to design a road surface capable of producing clean energy. They developed seven millimeter thick tiles designed to be directly incorporated into the road surface and able to resist the passage of any vehicle.

The tiles capture solar energy through photovoltaic cells which generate electricity in proportion to the intensity of the light. They are connected to the underground electrical distribution network (ERDF) or can be connected directly to homes.

The technology was patented in 2014 and officially launched in October 2015 under the name "Wattway". According to the website, a four meter stretch of road can supply one home with electricity. France’s agency for the environment and energy management estimates that one kilometer of road could provide lighting for a town of five thousand people.

They’re impressive figures and enough to attract the attention of France’s Minister of the Environment, Energy and Sea, Segolene Royal. In January 2016, she announced that one thousand kilometers of solar roads would be built over the next five years. The city of the future is certainly well on its way!