The village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France, is taking solar panelling from the roof to the street. The town says it’s just unveiled the world’s first solar panel road.The 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) route, covered by 2,800 square metres of electricity-generating panels, was declared open on Thursday by the country’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal. The panels have been covered with a protective resin that consists of fine sheets of silicon to help withstand the 2,000 motorists which use the road, while ensuring there is good grip between tyres and the roadway. Officials will see if the technology, called Wattway, can provide enough energy to power street lighting in the town of 3,400 residents over the next two years, according to The Guardian. It’s not a new idea however. A similar project in the Amsterdam, The Netherlands opened back in 2014, but on a cycle path instead of a regular road. If the trial proves successful, Royal wants to see the panels installed in one out of every 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of road in the country. France currently has a total of 1 million kilometres (621,000 miles) of road.
But the technology comes with a mighty price tag: The stretch of road cost 5 million Euros (US$5.2 million) to build, leaving some experts questioning the project’s value. “It’s without doubt a technical advance, but in order to develop renewables there are other priorities than a gadget of which we are more certain that it’s very expensive than the fact it works,” Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), told Le Monde. Colas, the road’s manufacturer, is hoping to reduce the cost of production of the panels. It’s also currently working on a hundred small solar experiments, half in France and half from abroad.