France on Thursday inaugurated the world's first "solar highway", a road paved with solar panels providing enough energy to power the street lights of the small Normandy town of Tourouvre.
The one-kilometre (half-mile) "Wattway" covered with 2,800 square metres (30,000 square feet) of resin-coated solar panels was hooked up to the local power grid as Environment Minister Segolene Royal looked on.
"This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use... to produce electricity without taking up new real estate," Royal said in a statement.
The minister announced a four-year "plan for the national deployment of solar highways" with initial projects in western Brittany and southern Marseille.
An average of 2,000 cars use the road in Tourouvre each day, testing the resistance of the panels for the project carried out by French civil engineering firm Colas, a subsidiary of construction giant Bouygues.
The idea, which is also under exploration in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, is that roadways are occupied by cars only around 20 percent of the time, providing vast expanses of surface to soak up the sun's rays.
Colas says that in theory France could become energy independent by paving only a quarter of its million kilometres of roads with solar panels.