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solar road tiles
Image: Pomah Magician

French solar roads are about corporate handouts not green energy

Have you noticed how France is starved for space these days?  Every field, parking lot and rooftop is now festooned with arrays of solar panels generating sufficient green energy to easily meet Europe’s climate change targets.  I assume that is the situation anyway, since that is the only logical explanation for Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology and energy opting to fund 600 miles of solar roadway at a cost in excess of 2.7 billion euros.

Solar roadways pop up on social media every few years when some company or other is on the lookout for a government handout to prove what engineers have been saying for years – that solar roadways are the most expensive and least efficient means of deploying photovoltaic solar cells.

Journalist Olivier Daniélo and Richard Robert, Director of Paris Tech Review argue that France has more than enough land available to deploy much more efficient rooftop and stand-alone solar systems that are proven to provide significantly greater output at a much lower cost:

“So it is time to raise not very pleasant, though serious questions. If one accepts that in the context of the French energy transition, the Wattway solution has absolutely no economic relevance against the other solutions available, then either this decision is just an irresponsible communication coup, or some public money is going to be spent to fund an industrial project in no way related to the country’s energy transition.

“Industrial policy, in short. Why not? But wait. Does it mean that the funds dedicated to this project will be diverted from other projects, with a stronger impact on the country’s CO2 emissions? The estimated cost of the project is 2.7 billion euros. Think of the number of projects, think of the avoided emissions that could be financed with such an amount. In a context of both fiscal austerity and climate emergency, the Minister’s decision is questionable.”

This is a problem that is likely to get worse as investment opportunities in fossil fuels collapse through a combination of higher extraction costs and increased carbon taxes.  Environmental campaigners will need to be on their guard against corporate interests using “green energy” as a cover for diverting public funds away from genuine carbon reduction into shareholders’ pockets.  Just because something generates power from a renewable source doesn’t automatically mean it is a good use of resources.

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