The same technology that powers your self-winding watch is being tested to see if bumps on roads, runways and sidewalks could be a renewable source of electricity.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports a proposal approved last week by the California Energy Commission will direct $2.3 million to two independent road projects designed to test the viability of scaling up piezoelectricity.
The idea, explained by Mike Gravely, a senior electrical engineer and head of the research division at the California Energy Commission, is that vibration caused by traffic can be captured as pressure, hence the name piezoelectricity - “Piezo” is Greek for “squeeze” or “press” and refers to using pressure to create power.
For the complete article and good graphics on how piezoelectricity works, go to California’s Jammed Highways Hold Hope As Power Source
Tiny generators embedded under the pavement will, when pressed, send out small electrical charges, which can be collected. More traffic, more charges. It can add up. The company Pyro-E in San Jose, is expected to build upon recent demonstrations with a design that would power up to 5,000 homes from a half-mile of highway.
Of course, not everyone thinks it's a great idea. Mike Gatto, the former Southern California assemblyman who wrote the 2011 piezoelectric bill, said he thinks the demonstrations will show promise. “Whenever you’re talking about a new technology, there’s always a bit of skepticism,” he said. “When the hippies said you could put silicone in the desert and get a charge from the sun, people were like, ‘Right, man.’ Now there’s solar power everywhere.”