It may be situated in a small French village that doesn't see that much sun, but the Normandy town of Tourouvre has opened the world's first solar roadway, bringing the hugely popular idea into reality.

The notion of paving roadways with solar panels to meet our energy needs is very appealing, but for the longest time it has remained largely a theoretical one.
The newly launched French roadway is just one kilometre long but that works out to be 2800 square metres of photovoltaic cells - enough, theoretically, to power the village's street lights.

The resin-coated solar panels were hooked up to the local power grid just in time for Christmas as France's Environment Minister Segolene Royal looked on last week.

"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," she said in a statement.

The one kilometre road is set to pave the way for to construction of much bigger solar highways in the future.

The minister announced a four-year "plan for the national deployment of solar highways" with initial projects in western Brittany and southern Marseille.

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 per cent of the time, providing vast expanses of surface to soak up the sun's rays.

The simple idea bestowes and secondary - and equally important - purpose for roads by allowing them to double as an energy source.