China’s pioneering into electricity-generating roads has taken a step back after a section of the road was stolen just five days after it opened, local media has reported (in Chinese). This setback comes just as China announced record solar electricity generation.

The world’s first solar panel paved highway opened in Jinan in Shandong on December 28 last year. But on January 2 a routine daily inspection found that a stretch of the solar panel surface was missing and the police were called.

The Qilu Evening News reported that a piece 15cm by 185cm was removed with damage to surrounding panels. The report quoted road staff as saying that the incident was clearly not simply damage or a rough job, but a planned and carefully executed plan.

The one kilometer stretch of road forms part of Jinan’s ring road and is billed as the world’s first photovoltaic solar panel road. It’s made up of 10,000 panels in a three-layer construction. It consists of a photovoltaic center, above and an insulating base and transparent concrete covering. According to state media, the surface is safer than traditional road coverings.

There are also electromagnetic induction coils set beneath the surface which in future should allow the wireless charging of electric vehicles as they drive overhead. In winter months the road can be switched so that the solar power is changed to heat to melt snow and ice.

Sensors embedded in the road will also collect data on the traffic passing over it which can be used by road and traffic management companies.

On the same day as the theft of panels was detected, Chinese media reported a 72% year-on-year increase in the country’s photovoltaic capacity for the first 11 months of 2017. China’s capacity has broken the 100 million MWh mark to reach 106.9 million MWh.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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