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World's first solar panel road to be inaugurated in Normandy

A man works on photovoltaic panels during the launch of the work for the construction of the first solar road at a factory in Tourouvre. AFP/Charly Triballeau

France's Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal will inaugurate the world's first solar panel road on December 22 in the village of Tourouvre in Normandy. The road cost some €5 million to build and was financed by the state.

The solar panels, which are embedded in the road (RD5) that runs through the village of Tourouvre, will be driven over by the 2,000 motorists who use the RD5 every day.

In doing so, the motorists will generate electricity, which will be used to partially light the village.

Street lightening for 5,000 inhabitants

The road is still part of a test phase to see whether it can provide energy but if all goes to plan the panels should be able to produce enough electricity to power the street lighting in the village of 5,000 inhabitants.

The project is being managed by Colas, a subsidiary of French company Bouygues.

With one million kilometres of roads around France, Colas says the country could in theory become energy independent thanks to the solar panels.

Will it work?

One of the downsides is that solar panels placed flat on roads produce less electricity that those place at an incline,  like those on the roofs of houses.

Detractors also doubt whether the panels will resist the elements as well as the heavy trucks that will test their sturdiness.