France Will Build More Than 600 Miles of Solar-Powered Roadways

France may soon be the world’s leader in solar-powered roadways. Ségolène Royal, the country’s minister of ecology, announced a plan last month to pave more than 600 miles of French roads with photovoltaic panels, beginning this spring. The project will be completed over the next five years.

Made by Colas, a construction company that has been working on the technology for five years, the photovoltaic tiles are designed to stay warm enough to prevent ice from forming on top of them, and to withstand the weight of cars. According to the French plan, 1 kilometer of solar road (.6 miles) could power a town of 5000 people for a year. Should it work, the solar road network would provide 8 percent of the country’s population with electricity.

Some critics argue that solar roads will be too expensive to be worthwhile on a large scale, so France’s project will provide a more definitive test of the technology’s capabilities (or drawbacks). The photovoltaic cells will have to hold up under the impact of heavy traffic (including trucks) and remain safe in winter conditions.

France is not the first country to invest in solar roads, but it would be the first to do so for vehicular highways. A U.S. solar road project—funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and more than $2 million raised on Indiegogo—is currently in the research phase, but has not begun a pilot test yet. South Korea and the Netherlands, on the other hand, are both experimenting with solar panels installed on bike lanes. Korea’s are installed on a structure on top of the bike lane, shading the cyclists below, while the Dutch solar panels are buried within the bike path itself. In 2015, the 328-foot-long Dutch pilot was able to generate enough power to run three homes for a year.

[h/t Co.Exist]

All images courtesy Colas.

Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now one by one, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


More from mental floss studios