CEA-INES, Colas secure IEC certification for PV road tech

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Solar experts are divided on the long-term viability of solar roadways, even though they are popular on social media. Some argue that they are little more than mere gimmicks that actually harm the image of solar as a scalable, affordable and mainstream source of energy. However, others believe that if the busy arteries of cities can begin “paying their way” with PV, the technology could reduce CO2 emissions and support the uptake of electric vehicles.

In line with the second approach, French startup Colas and France's National Solar Energy Institute (INES) – a division of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) jointly built the world's first PV bike road in Normandy, France, in 2016.

Industry experts raised serious concerns about solar module integrity, attracting significant attention in and outside of France and prompting substantial skepticism. Ground-deployed solar panels can undergo significant mechanical stress, severely affecting their performance. And the integration of special technologies to reinforce module structures can significantly increase their costs compared to conventional ones.

Despite these concerns, the Netherlands immediately followed in the footsteps of France, as land is scarce in the country. In 2016, a bike path near Amsterdam was equipped with solar panels and another one was built in 2020 in Utrecht. Then, in the United States, SolarRoadways equipped a short sidewalk near Route 66 in Missouri with hexagonal solar panels embedded with multi-layered LED lights. Germany, meanwhile, didn't deploy its first PV bike lane project until 2023, in the city of Freiburg. However, the system consisted of an elevated PV shade.

After more than seven years of development, solar roads have failed to reach commercial feasibility and remain at the pilot project level. But Colas and CEA-INES now claim that a new development could change things.

“The latest version of the Wattway pavement has just been certified to current IEC standards in the photovoltaic sector, like any standard solar panel – an exciting result and a world first for a circulable module,” they said in a recent joint press release.

Colas said its solar modules are now two times bigger than the ones it used in 2016. They now feature an unspecified type of resin on the front side. After a series of tests, Colas secured the IEC 61215 and IEC 61730 certifications for the panels.

“The results of the IEC 61215 and 61730 tests were unreservedly compliant, both in terms of performance stability and module safety,” the company said. “The electrical insulation resistances assessed at the end of each test branch remained well above the required level.”

Colas and CEA-INES said the new certifications are a step toward the commercialization of the technology, although they have yet to provide additional technical details about the tests.

“These certifications show that the reliability of Wattway modules is similar to that of photovoltaic panels on the market,” they said. “This is a key step in the development of the Wattway Plus offer for the production of renewable electricity for on-site self-consumption.”

According to the Colas website, the Wattway monocrystalline modules have an efficiency of 21% and an output of 144 W/m2.

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