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France Paves The Way For Public Solar Energy—Could NYC Take Some Pointers?

France has pioneered the use of public solar power by installing electricity producing panels in the road.

By Jeff Vasishta December 27, 2016
Route 66 in Missouri. Photo courtesy of Solar Roadways

If Bill de Blasio is serious about his goal of creating 100 megawatts of renewable energy on public buildings by 2025, he could take a look at what’s happening in France. If he did, he’d realize that renewable energy—or, in this case, solar power—doesn’t simply have to consist of huge reflective panels on roof tops. Rather, it can be applied anywhere, even on the road.

A Normandy village in Northern France is an unassuming location that could change the way the world thinks of going green. The Guardian reported that a 1 km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche covered with 2,800 square meters of electricity-generating panels was inaugurated on December 22 by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

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At £4.2 million (around $7 million) to construct, it’s obviously a lot pricier than an average road. The route will be used by about 2,000 motorists a day during a two year-year test period—with the goal lighting the local village of 3,400 residents. Having seen the light, literally, Royal has said she would like to see solar panels installed on one in every 1,000 km of French highway—France has a total of one million kilometers of roads. However, panels laid on flat surfaces have been found to be less efficient than those installed on sloping areas, such as roofs. Critics have mentioned the expense, which makes such an extensive use of panels prohibitive until the cost comes down.

New York has been positively pedestrian compared to the use of green energy in Europe. Mayor de Blasio has recently launched a program called Solarize NYC. It will allow communities that have historically had limited access to clean energy to receive financial support and technical assistance from the city. But the bureaucratic nightmare was a major deterrent. It involved jumping through hoops with the Department of Buildings, the FDNY, and Con Edison.

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The New York Times reported that, as of September 30th, the number of residential projects across the five boroughs has risen from 186 in 2011 to 5,300 in 2016, and there are another 1,900 in the pipeline.

Still, the upfront costs for a single family house —around $5,000-$10,000 after incentives—is still a stumbling block for a city, where the cost of living one of the highest in the U.S. This despite the fact that solar power, according to the Times, can cut electricity bills by 85 percent. The majority of solar panels are being installed in suburban type houses in Staten Island, Long Island, and Westchester with south-facing pitched roofs and large apartment buildings where the landlords can afford the upfront costs.

One of the biggest investments in solar power in NYC happened at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, where ConEdison Solutions, the subsidiary brand of Con Edison that offers renewal energy alternatives, delivered a new 3,152-panel solar rooftop onto Building 293. It’s estimated to generate 1.1 million kilowatts hours of energy per year. This is the equivalent of saving 76,000 gallons of gasoline annually and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.4 million pounds.

Getting NYC’s individual homeowners fully on board with solar power may be an uphill battle. But putting them on the highways may help to pave the road to success.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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