France Ends 2016 with a Big Solar Energy Announcement

Solar EnergyFrance Records First with Solar Energy

With the tumultuous year that was 2016 limping to a finish, solar energy looks to end an already strong year on a high note. France has announced that it has opened the world’s first solar panel road, in a Normandy village.

While France isn’t exactly world-renowned for all-year sunshine, that didn’t stop the country from pioneering a novel way to both build roads and contribute to the power grid. A one-kilometer route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche was covered with 2,800 square miles of solar-energy-generating panels, and was officially inaugurated on December 22 by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal. (Source: “The world’s first solar panel road has opened in France,” Business Insider, December 22, 2016.)

The road cost €5.0 million (US$5.22 million) to construct, and will see about 2,000 motorists a day during a two-year test period. The test will focus on whether the panels can generate enough solar energy to power street lighting for 3,400 residents of the village.

While solar-powered bike paths have been installed, this is the first road used by drivers that is set to generate power.

The project has not been without its detractors. Some believe that the money used to build these roads could have been better focused in other areas of renewable energy. There’s also the question of efficiency: sloped panels have been shown to have a better energy yield than those that are laid flat.

But even the critics are quick to agree that this is, at the very least, an impressive technological feat, seeing as how the panels are not only able to soak in the rays and convert them to solar energy, but also tough enough to withstand large vehicles rolling over them every day.

Touching back on the location, the area isn’t exactly known for endlessly sunny days. The region’s political capital only enjoys about 44 days of strong sunshine a year, compared to other parts of France that receive more in the 170+ range.