France Builds Hyper-Expensive Solar Road It’ll Hardly Use


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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France opened a $5.3 million half-mile long “solar highway” Tuesday as part of a plan to close a third of its nuclear reactors in favor of turning 620 miles of road into solar panels.

Only about 2,000 cars use the road a day, but it is far from certain that the panels can take even that modest use. The electricity generated by the panels is about 13 times more expensive than conventional solar power in France.

France’s Agency of Environment and Energy Management claims that .002 miles of solar road is enough to supply one household’s electricity needs, apart from heating.

Actual calculations from an electronics design engineer disagree vehemently. Last year, a 200 foot stretch of solar bike path in France was seriously damaged by winter weather.

Under optimal conditions, the 620 miles of solar roads will only be capable of providing 8 percent of France’s need for electricity, which leaves a huge gap in the amount of energy required even if solar power was capable of operating consistently like nuclear reactors.

Scientists have repeatedly criticized schemes to cover roads with solar panels. Realistic, the system would be incredibly inefficient and unable to generate substantial amounts of energy and wouldn’t be capable of serving as a road for long.

Many suspect that solar panels on roads would be worse than useless, as they wouldn’t be tilted to follow the sun, are incredibly fragile and would often be covered by cars during periods when the sun is out. Despite these criticisms, the American Department of Transportation gave out $750,000 in grants to fund a similar scheme.

A prototype of the solar road in Idaho can’t be driven on, hasn’t generated any electricity and 75 percent of the panels were broken before they were even installed. Of the panels installed to make a “solar footpath,” 18 of the 30 were dead on arrival due to a manufacturing failure. A short rain shower caused another four panels to fail, and only five panels were functional by the end of the week. The prototype appears to be plagued by drainage issues, poor manufacturing controls and fundamental design flaws.

Every single promise made about the solar roadway prototype seems to have fallen flat and the project appears to be a “total and epic failure,” according to an electrical engineer.

Due to a law passed last November, France’s state-controlled nuclear power company Electricite de France (EDF) will be forced to close up to a third of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2025. The law requires France to reduce the share of nuclear energy production from 75 percent now to only 50 percent by 2025. This could lead to the closure of 17 to 20 nuclear reactors.

The law requiring nuclear reactors to be shutdown in favor of solar power is extremely controversial in France as it stems from a promise made by French President François Hollande during the 2012 election to prop up his temporary alliance with the anti-nuclear The Greens party.

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