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Some California Roads Soon Will Generate Power

California's truck traffic soon may generate power through vibration sensors in the road. (Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile)
California's truck traffic soon may generate power through vibration sensors in the road. (Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile)
August 1, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California has almost 400,000 miles of roads and a ton of truck traffic that together may soon become a source of renewable energy.

When a truck rumbles down the road, it sends out powerful vibrations, and the state is set to test something called piezoelectric technology, that can convert that pressure into electricity.

The California Energy Commission has been studying this idea for five years now, and just announced it is spending $7 million on a pilot project on Golden State roads.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a booster of the idea, says tiny sensors are embedded in the pavement that work like sonar, but in reverse.

"You shoot an electrical pulse into sonar, it can generate waves,” he explains. “This is really the opposite. The cars and trucks drive over a road, there's a certain amount of vibration within the pavement. These little watch batteries, they get a charge from those vibrations and they generate electric power."

Gatto explains the sensors have small wires that connect to a battery on the side of the road that then can generate power for streetlights, or even a nearby factory.

Gatto sponsored a bill a few years ago to fund a piezoelectric project, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying it needed to go to the California Energy Commission first.

"They've concluded that this is a tremendous source of power,” Gatto states. “If it goes as well as the experiments that other countries have done, then it's going to be 'coming to a road near you,' where a road you drive on might actually generate electrical power."

The sensors were first invented by an Israeli company and already are in use there, as well as in Japan and Italy.

The Energy Commission now is soliciting companies to apply for a grant to conduct the pilot program.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA