Solar roads that can power homes to debut in UK

Updated: 


Solar panels that can be used to power buildings are to be fitted on stretches of road in the UK next year.

The photovoltaic material is a quarter of an inch thick and can be 'glued' on top of road surfaces. According to engineers working on the technology, it is tough enough to withstand the weight of even the heaviest vehicles.

A company called Colas, which is a subsidiary of the French engineering firm Bouygues, will test its Wattway solar road at three sites in the UK.

To power one home for a year, 12ft of road surfaces requires 1,000 hours of sunlight. Cambridge, which has been put forward as one of the likely test locations, receives about 1,500 hours per year.

The idea of using roads for solar panels has been gaining momentum in recent years, after a 2014 crowdfunding campaign by Solar Roadways in Idaho went viral.

However, critics claim that the panels will not receive enough light because of cars travelling over them blocking the sun. There's also the issue of keeping the panels clean enough to soak up the light.

But the engineers behind this new trial are confident. Pierre Trotobas, Colas's development manager, said: "The potential behind this is huge, if you consider the number of square kilometres of road that are available for energy instead of building big solar farms in fields."

The power can be fed into the National Grid, or can directly power street lights, electric road signs or even electric vehicles.

Colas is planning about 100 test schemes worldwide and hopes to make the technology cost-competitive with solar farms as early as 2020.