France has inaugurated the world's first "solar highway", a road paved with solar panels providing enough energy to power the street lights of the small Normandy town of Tourouvre.
French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal officially opened the solar highway. It took five years to develop and cost $5.2 million to produce and install the 30,000 square feet of solar panels. They're coated with a clear silicon resin that enables them to withstand the impact of passing traffic.
Being the first of its kind, the panels are still prohibitively expensive to produce.
France may install them along another 1,000 kilometers of its roads. "This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use. to produce electricity without taking up new real estate,"Royal said in a statement.
One drawback of the system is that solar panels are more effective when angled towards the sun, typically on slanted rooftops, than when they are laid flat.And the cost question is far from being resolved. Each kilowatt peak the unit of measure for solar energy generated by Wattway currently costs 17 euros, compared with 1.30 euros for a major rooftop installation. But Colas hopes to make the cost competitive by 2020, noting that the cost of producing solar energy decreased by 60 percent between 2009 and 2015 according to a French renewable energy association, SER.