Solar Roads: Disappointing Outcomes from Around the World

Solar roads are inefficient, unsustainable, and unrealistic.


Innovators in the field have long since been trying to integrate in with the items we use every day. With everything from solar cars to solar blinds, it is becoming more and more common to see solar panels meshed right into the fabric of our daily lives. Since not every home or building structure can accommodate traditional solar panels, finding creative ways to get solar energy to consumers has been a necessary challenge 

Among the triumphs to emerge from the solar energy community in the last decade or so, there have also been some major disappointments. In particular, the world’s first  has proven to be a complete failure.  

France’s Solar Road 

When the solar road in Normandy Village in France first opened in December of 2016 with the help of Wattway, there were high hopes for the project. Initially, a one-kilometer stretch of road (around 0.6 miles) was used to set up this solar-powered highway. Overall, the project was anticipated to cover nearly 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) of road by the time of its completion. However, now that testing results from the solar road have been reviewed and releasedfurther construction on this mammoth solar project may be on hold. 

Falling Short of Expectations 

The initial one-kilometer stretch of solar road was predicted to generate enough solar power to provide for at least 5,000 homes. If the solar road project is completed in its entirety, the 1,000-kilometer stretch could provide solar power for up to 5 million homes. Unfortunately, the solar road started experiencing issues almost immediately, much to the dismay of supporters and proponents of the solar road. 

According to an organization called Global Construction Review, it was determined that the solar panels placed on the road are not nearly as resilient as they should be. Shortly after the solar panels were installed, they began to degrade, peel away, and splinter. A portion of the road was even removed after being damaged beyond repair.  

Global Construction Review stated in their report that the engineers of the solar road did not account for the wear and tear on the road from things like heavy trucks and trailers, natural weather conditions, and mold. The solar road is also much less efficient than originally anticipated, only generating 149,459-kilowatt-hours per year. Initial estimates stated that the solar road would generate up to 790-kilowatt-hours per day. This equates to nearly 288,350-kilowatt-hours per year, making the solar road panels even less efficient than regular, freestanding solar panels.  

Solar Road Struggles Worldwide 

The solar roadway in France is just one of several attempts that have been made to create viable . In the United States, a portion of a roadway near Route 66 was paved in solar panels by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Like the France solar roadway, this project also proved to be impractical and inefficient. China also made the same attempt with a one-kilometer stretch of road, but found that the solar road did not generate enough power to be deemed viable as a long-term solution. 

In the Netherlands in 2015, a solar pathway was constructed for bikes and pedestrians. The SolaRoad was anticipated to do well in terms of longevity, thanks to the absence of any vehicles. However, while the solar path has durability, it lacks sustainability. It is estimated that the costs to build the bike path could have purchased 520,000 kilowatts of electricity. For such a large investment, the solar path only brought a return of 3,000 kilowatts during its first year. 

Is There Any Hope for Solar Roads? 

Overall, things are not looking too good for solar roads. We have yet to see a company construct a solar road or pathway that is both cost-effective, practical for widespread use, and durable. Not to mention, the solar road needs to generate enough clean energy to surrounding cities and residences if they are to be worth constructing in the first place. So far, we have seen a lot of money thrown at solar roads with little return. Until we can find a way to match costs and efficiency with energy output and durability, it is unlikely that we will see solar roads in our towns and cities any time soon.  




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