In 2017 Caltrans will start pilots with piezometrics in repaving: a 1.5 mile stretch of two-lane highway would generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes

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“When cars drive along roads, they vibrate the roads; and it sounds like science fiction, but scientists have developed a material that gets a charge simply from the vibration of a car or truck,” Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, explained.


Vehicles drive down Interstate 5 in downtown Sacramento. SOURCE: KCRA
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —It’s known as piezoelectric technology. Gatto introduced the idea to state lawmakers in 2011 after learning these tiny sensors were being used to generate electricity in Israel, Italy and Japan.

“We could use our roads to generate power and maybe that power could be sold,” Gatto said. “And God forbid, we actually pave some of those roads — which are in terrible shape.”

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the original bill to fund the technology, but the California Energy Commission came back to Gatto a few months later.

“They said, ‘You know, we think there’s some promise to this,'” Gatto said.

“As an engineer, I could just see that vision of all these people driving down the roads and all that energy that’s sitting there and goes nowhere,” Energy Commission Deputy Division Chief Michael Gravely said. “If we can capture that, that’s a great opportunity.”

Five years of research later, the commission now has several pilot programs to install these sensors starting next year.

“You put a lot of these in the concrete, actually in the road, and the people on the road would probably not even know that they’re there,” Gravely said.

“They’re soliciting proposals right now and companies, universities — whatever can come forward — and get millions of dollars to put this underneath California roadways,” Gatto said.

The sensors are about the size of a watch battery. Now, envision thousands of them wired together beneath the road.

Gatto said a one-and-a-half mile stretch of two-lane highway would generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

“The toll roads could sell the power to houses along the toll roads. CalTrans could lease the freeways to power-generating utilities. The possibilities are endless,” Gatto said.

Gatto said no roads would be torn up to install the sensors. They would be installed in roads slated for re-pavement.