One solar experiment that didn’t work as well as expected — time to try again

This is the story of an experiment that failed. But they tried, and the next attempt will work better.

https://www.businessinsider.com/first-solar-road-france-failure-photos-2019-8

Photos show the world’s first solar road that’s turned out to be a colossal failure because it’s falling apart and doesn’t generate enough energy

An automobile drives on a solar panel road during its inauguration in Tourouvre
An automobile drives on a solar panel road during its inauguration in Tourouvre
Benoit Tessier / Reuters
  • In July, a French daily newspaper published a story saying the longest solar road in the world had failed. It’s neither economically viable or energy efficient.
  • Less than three years since the road opened, it’s become cracked and damaged. Parts of the road have been demolished because they weren’t salvageable.
  • Energy targets were never hit, because engineers didn’t plan for rotting leaves to block sunlight. These photos show how
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

France appears to have been on the solar road to nowhere.

In July, the French daily newspaper Le Monde reported that the 0.6-mile solar road was a fiasco.

In December 2016, when the trial road was unveiled, the French Ministry of the Environment called it “unprecedented.” French officials said the road, made of photovoltaic panels, would generate electricity to power streetlights in Tourouvre, a local town.

But less than three years later, a report published by Global Construction Review says France’s road dream may be over. Cracks have appeared, and in 2018, part of the road had to be demolished due to damage from wear and tear.

Even at its peak, the road was only producing half of the expected energy, because engineers didn’t take into consideration rotting leaves falling on the road.

Here what the road looked like in all of its former glory, and how it got to this point.

It was all smiles and high hopes in 2016, when the world’s first solar panel road, called Wattway, opened. France spent $5.2 million on 0.6 miles of road, and 30,000 square feet of solar panels. It was hailed as the longest solar road in the world.

It was all smiles and high hopes in 2016, when the world's first solar panel road, called Wattway, opened. France spent $5.2 million on 0.6 miles of road, and 30,000 square feet of solar panels. It was hailed as the longest solar road in the world.
Segolene Royal at the inauguration of the solar panel road.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

Source: The Verge

Media gathered around to take a walk down what was thought to be the road of the future. The French minister for energy said she wanted to have solar panels on one mile of road every 621 miles in the country within the next five years.

Media gathered around to take a walk down what was thought to be the road of the future. The French minister for energy said she wanted to have solar panels on one mile of road every 621 miles in the country within the next five years.
Segolene Royal.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

Source: NBC

Despite grey skies on the day of the inauguration, France was leading the world for solar transportation.

Despite grey skies on the day of the inauguration, France was leading the world for solar transportation.
An automobile drives on the solar panel road.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

But the brake was never removed, and the wheels never started rolling — so to speak.

But the brake was never removed, and the wheels never started rolling — so to speak.
The tires of an automobile on a solar panel road.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

It was a bold move beginning a solar panel trial in Normandy, France, since the region doesn’t have the most sunshine. Caen, a city in Normandy, only has 44 days of strong sunshine in a year. Thunderstorms also reportedly broke solar panels on the road.

It was a bold move beginning a solar panel trial in Normandy, France, since the region doesn't have the most sunshine. Caen, a city in Normandy, only has 44 days of strong sunshine in a year. Thunderstorms also reportedly broke solar panels on the road.
Storm in Normandy.
Wikimedia

The trial road was meant to produce about 150,000 kWh a year, which is enough power to provide light for up to 5,000 people, every day. Instead, it was making just under 80,000 in 2018, and fewer than 40,000 by July 2019.

The trial road was meant to produce about 150,000 kWh a year, which is enough power to provide light for up to 5,000 people, every day. Instead, it was making just under 80,000 in 2018, and fewer than 40,000 by July 2019.
An electrical cabinet for Wattway on the solar road.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

Colas, the company that built the road, said in 2016 that the solar panels were covered with resin containing sheets of silicon to make them capable of withstanding all traffic. But since the opening, panels have come loose or broken into little pieces.

Colas, the company that built the road, said in 2016 that the solar panels were covered with resin containing sheets of silicon to make them capable of withstanding all traffic. But since the opening, panels have come loose or broken into little pieces.
A solar panel road is pictured during its inauguration in Tourouvre, Normandy
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

In May 2018, 300 feet of the road had to be demolished since it wasn’t salvageable.

In May 2018, 300 feet of the road had to be demolished since it wasn't salvageable.
A demolished solar panel.
Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

The engineers also didn’t take into account the effects of leaves, which caused damage and limited the amount of electricity the panels could produce. They also didn’t think about the pressure and weight from tractors, two locals told Le Monde.

The engineers also didn't take into account the effects of leaves, which caused damage and limited the amount of electricity the panels could produce. They also didn't think about the pressure and weight from tractors, two locals told Le Monde.
A tractor in France.
Stephane Mahe / Reuters

And now the trial looks like it’s all over. Wattway’s managing director Etienne Gaudin told Le Monde that it would not be going to market. “Our system is not mature on long distance traffic,” he said. The company would focus on creating electricity for smaller things, like CCTV cameras and lighting bus shelters.

And now the trial looks like it's all over. Wattway's managing director Etienne Gaudin told Le Monde that it would not be going to market.
The car is parked.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

2 thoughts on “One solar experiment that didn’t work as well as expected — time to try again

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