So it’s not Dorothy skipping to Oz with her companions, but still the feat feels magical. France boasts a major tech victory at the close of 2016. On December 22nd the world’s first solar panel road, stretching for over a mile through Tourouvre, Normandy, gave its first demonstration. It cost over $5 million to build and consists of 2800 square meters of photovoltaic cells.
While the construction of the road was expensive, the French Ministry of the Environment hopes it will generate enough energy to power the streetlights in the small town. Though expensive, the construction does show imagination in building a greener planet, without costing any physical changes in the day to day life of its users. Plans to expand the program are already in place, to test under the stress of larger and more commercial traffic a road would face in denser communities. If successful, officials have already stated an interest in paving up to 1000 kilometers of solar panel roads over the next five years.
It will be interesting to see how France continues this program. The project has generated some buzz, but if it was all for publicity the program will likely not catch on. The challenges France faces is making a project of this size worth it. Currently other countries are not emulating this kind of experiment due to its financial cost and lackluster return. The cost of a two lane solar road appears to rest around 10 million euros. In 2014 the Netherlands tried a similar experiment with a bike path, and while the energy generated is enough to power a family home, “The cost of building the cycle path, however, could have paid for 520,000kWh.”
The cost of a greener planet is worth the price, and we should expect governments (and private companies) to research and develop efficient green technology. But it is important these experiments are not just used for PR. No one wins when large sums of money are wasted on inefficient projects with little follow up. Climate Change should continue to be a top concern but it is important governments and private citizens do not fall into a trap of showmanship. If the road in France provides little return and little optimism for future developments, the country will not only be set back financially, but the confidence of citizens in future endeavors may waver.
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