French Minister for Ecology
French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal walks on a solar panel road during its inauguration in Tourouvre, Normandy. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

The Guardian reports that a 1km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in northern France, covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, was just inaugurated by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

One lane of the road is covered entirely in a patchwork of the small solar cells that look rather like bathroom tiles, or a very dirty version of the road in the Wizard of Oz.

It’s now called the solar panel road.

Financed entirely by the French state, the project has been welcomed with much criticism as an ineffective use of public money. The critics say laying solar panels on flat surfaces have been found to be less efficient than panels installed on sloping areas, such as roofs.

Although this is a huge step for solar, still, the economics hardly add up. A recent Forbes article said the math indicates that rooftop panels are much cheaper and more effective at this stage, costing 13 times less than Wattway cells per kilowatt-peak.

The good thing about this project, whether you are in favor or not, is that this real-world testing of solar roads will help inform future projects such as this.

The French government plans to build 1000km of solar panel roads in the next five years.

Derick Lila
Derick is a Clark University graduate—and Fulbright alumni with a Master's Degree in Environmental Science, and Policy. He has 8+ years of solar industry research, marketing, and content strategy experience.

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