There’s a YouTube video going around which has gotten more than five and a half million views in a little under two weeks which presents an interesting possibility worth exploring. The video treats its audience as though we’re a bunch of 6th graders or stoners fighting over a bag of Cheetos, but it’s worth watching nonetheless.
Welcome to the world of Solar Freakin’ Roadways…
We can’t verify the claims made in the video, or those made at the Indiegogo site the inventors have set up to raise capital. They’re making some very aggressive representations about the amount of electricity their solar-panel road tiles can generate.
Let’s just assume that roads resurfaced with the tiles in the video can generate enough electricity to turn a profit by feeding the grid.
Should that turn out to be the case, this could be an example of a couple of themes we talk about on the Hayride coming into play.
First, if technology to economically transform asphalt roadways into high-tech surfaces generating power and communication came into existence and potential wide use, it would be a classic case of an Industrial Age government trying to manage an Information Age society for the roadways to stay as they are.
And second, we talk about the need to detach the public’s desire for services currently provided by the government from the government’s current monopoly to provide those services. This would be a classic example of how that could be done.
If the technology in the video were to prove out as affordable and cost-efficient, and the solar roadways were to generate enough electricity to turn a profit, then ownership and maintenance of roadways could become a profitable enterprise without the necessity of tolls. And if that ownership and maintenance became profitable, then it’s no longer necessary for the government to actually own and manage the roads anymore.
And that would mean the Department of Transportation at the state and local level can scale down to not much more than a leasing and rating agency, while private companies – some being mom-and-pops, and some being large corporations – lease the roadways and surface them with technology enabling dollars to flow to service the lease and turn a profit. Replacing a broken tile is a lot quicker and easier than filling a pothole is – particularly when the tiles give real-time data to the operator of the roadway about which ones are broken (and a broken tile isn’t producing revenue anymore).
Should we get to the point where solar roadways charge electric cars that drive on them, you really start to see things get interesting – at that point owning the road would be tantamount to owning the gas stations along it.
All of this is academic and theoretical, of course. This could be a complete fizzle of an idea. The inventors have raised almost $1.4 million through Indiegogo so far, though, with over 3,000 people participating in their crowdfunding program – so if this is a sucker play they’re pretty good at it.
But some ideas like this are going to pan out. And when they do, the opportunity to change out an obsolete government model for something smarter, cheaper and better is there to be seized.