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France Opens World's First Solar Panel Road

France has opened its first solar-powered road, which will test if the entire 3,400-person village of Tourouvre-au-Perche can rely entirely on renewable energy for its street lighting. 

The experiment, which cost $5.2 million, features the first solar powered road in the world, according to The Guardian. Around 2,800 solar panels line around 1/2 mile of roadway, which will be used by 2,000 drivers each day. 

Colas, the construction company that supplied the Wattaway panels, says the village's solar panel road will produce 280 megawatt hours of power each year, according to Inhabitat. Daily output will vary based on weather conditions, and the panels are covered with a special resin coating to prevent damage from traffic. 

The road will be in place for a two-year test period to see if all street lights throughout the village can be powered by solar energy.

"We are still on an experimental phase," said Wattway Director Jean-Charles Broizat, according to Inhabitat. "Building a trial site of this scale is a real opportunity for our innovation. This trial site has enabled us to improve our photovoltaic panel installing process as well as their manufacturing, in order to keep on optimizing our innovation.”

Within the next five years, France hopes to install solar panels on more than 600 miles of road, supplying renewable energy to 8 percent of the population. 

Critics of the initiative claim it's a waste of public money, according to The Guardian. Network for Energetic Transition Vice President Marc Jedliczka said that, considering experts are unsure if the roads will be able to effectively provide electricity full time, it's not worth the high price tag.

"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," he said.

President of the renewable energy union SER, Jean-Louis Bal, reserved comment on the project, saying he will wait until the end of the two-year test trial before deciding whether or not the experiment is a success and should be expanded.

"We have to look at the cost, the production [of electricity] and its lifespan. For now I don’t have the answers," he said.

Sources: The Guardian, Inhabitat / Photo credit: Port of San Diego/Flickr

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