Ashish Bhatia kindly pointed me with this Tweet to his idea of using advertising income as a funding source for solar projects.
The idea seems to be to install lots of solar panels along road sides and have ads on these solar panels to contribute to the costs of installation.
I have not heard about this concept before. At first sight, I like it. It deserves some scrutiny. Any new income stream for solar energy (or any other form of renewable energy) is of course most welcome.
In the media business, advertising revenue is a serious percentage of all revenue. The world’s largest media company is Google, and its revenue is mostly from advertising.
As it happens, they also have invested some serious money in solar projects. Have they tried to get any advertising revenue from these projects? Are there large numbers of Google solar billboards?
If there are, I haven’t heard about that yet.
If you search for “solar billboard“, you come up with vendors for solar-powered lights that make a billboard visible at night. The obvious advantage is that you can place such a solar billboard light everywhere without worrying about connecting it to the grid. Billboard lights are a great match for off-grid solar.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) reports $1.64 billion in advertising revenue from billboards for the third quarter of 2014. That works out to around $6.5 billion a year for the United States market.
One could buy a couple of solar panels with that kind of money. For starters, if all existing billboards get some solar lights, increasing their revenue by making them effective at night, that alone may boost demand for solar power substantially.
Again, at first sight, I think people should look at this idea more closely.
But actually, there may be even better forms of using solar as an advertising platform than just a billboard.
I am thinking of all those pictures of solar farms. If you find a way to arrange the solar panels in a meaningful way without disturbing their function, you get an extra revenue stream.
Why shouldn’t a solar park sponsored by Google spell out the word “Google” when looked at from higher altitudes? Or when looked at from a suitable distance from a high point like a hill?
There is a word for this, and its “geoglyph”, as I just learned from looking at the Wikipedia article on the Nazca Lines.
I just discovered that these Nazca Lines are actually remains from ancient solar power sites, but that’s a secret. Don’t tell anybody just yet. I need to write a short story about that idea first.
This is kind of an obvious idea. So probably someone is already doing this, and I just haven’t heard about it.
Again, Google’s solar projects would seem an excellent match.
Update: I just learned from Kees van der Leun that India has started putting solar panels on canals. That generates solar power and helps keep water from evaporating. This is similar to what Bhatia proposes, but without the advertising income angle.