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World’s first solar highway opens in France

France has recently unveiled the world`s first solar panel road in a small village in Normandy.

The road, called Wattway, was inaugurated by ecology minister Ségolène Royal, who said earlier this year that she wanted to build 1000 km of solar panel roads in France.

Colas, part of the telecoms giant Bougyes, developed the Wattway panels over five years.

The route - financed by the state - is covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels and crosses the village of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The electricity generated should be able to power the street lighting in the village of 3,400 inhabitants.

Expected to be used by an average of 2,000 motorists a day, the highway will now undergo a two-year testing phase.

Despite the price of silicon - a primary component of photo voltaic cells - dropping dramatically over the last 10 years, the cost of such a project is still very high.

Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), told Le Monde: “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.”

A number of countries are experimenting with solar panels on roads. The Netherlands have 70 metres of solar road in operation since 2014 in the form of a bike path.

Piers Barnes, a Physics research associate at Imperial College London, told The Independent that cost and durability were the two main factors impeding the development of solar panel roads.

“As cost of solar panels comes down, increasingly interesting and innovative applications will be created in places one would not otherwise consider,” he said.

He did however, add that the UK was intrinsically more expensive when it came to solar panels due to its poor levels of sunshine.

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