Europe has been at the forefront of leading a movement surrounded towards a smarter, more efficient power grid that’s heavily based on renewable energy as opposed to coal or nuclear power plants.
There’s more than enough reliance on solar power in Europe that solar eclipses have the potential to cause gigawatt-scale power fluctuations.
France, on the other-hand, has still been reliant on nuclear power, which provided over 80% of its power back in 2012.
In a recent effort to re-balance its energy mix and catch up with the rest of the continent, the French parliament has approved a law mandating that all new commercial buildings feature roofs that are at the very least partially covered in solar panels or plants.
This new law applies only to new construction of buildings in commercial zones within France.
Originally, local environmental groups has lobbied for the law to apply to all new buildings, and for the equipment to be total roof-top coverage with greenery, but that didn’t pass.
Instead, the law has been scaled back to allow partial coverage of green plants or solar panels, whichever the building owner prefers.
Solar vs. “Green Roofs”
While many people might assume that “green” roofs mean solar due to it being energy efficient and helping the environment, it isn’t what this law means.
“Green” roofs refer to roofs that are covered in dirt and living plants, which make things more complicated than just installing a solar panel system.
They’re much more difficult to construct since you usually have to plan for them in the design phase of your building. All of the plants, the soil they live, and the water that the system retains weighs a lot. The most extensive, self-sustaining green roof ecosystems weigh upwards of 700kg.
With proper planning for this type of structural overhead, it’s sometimes impossible to greenify a roof of a building that wasn’t designed for it. Not to mention, if you decide to design it from the beginning, you are looking at costs that could double for your roof.
Solar panels are very straightforward; they generate electricity and can have that either be used on-site or fed back to the grid.
To clarify, in some respect, green roofs are similar to rooftop solar panels.
There’s an up-front cost, but over time, there’s also significant savings that will more than cover the cost of construction and upkeep.
Rooftop solar panels tackle several problems simultaneously. By either saving energy or generating electricity, they help to reduce power demands and stabilize the national grid, especially when demand peaks due to high temperatures.
Toronto, Canada implemented a similar mandatory green roof law back in 2009, which requires green roofs on new buildings.
From initial studies related to the law, it has shown that the city could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs while reducing ambient temperatures by several degrees Celsius.
France is making an investment in energy independence, efficiency, and stability, and when it eventually pays off, they will surely have many regretting they would have put solar on their roofs sooner.