California Roads and Rail: One Step Closer to Being an Energy Source
Shortly after being elected, I had a conversation with a friend who had just returned from Israel. Expecting to hear emotional descriptions of religious sites, I was surprised to hear my friend rave instead about a road that produced energy.
After researching the issue, I found that engineers in Israel, Italy and Japan had successfully installed piezoelectric sensors underneath roadways and railways. The technique uses tiny devices that look like watch batteries, embedded in pavement, to recapture energy that would be otherwise lost as vehicles rumble along. The energy from the tiny vibrations can be converted into electricity to power roadside lights, call boxes and neighboring communities.
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB 306, my bill that would have implemented two piezoelectric-pilot projects on California freeways. Undeterred, I asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to study the issue. Last year, the CEC released preliminary research on the feasibility of using piezoelectric material in California roadways to capture wasted energy from cars. And just two months ago, the CEC held a workshop to discuss ways to begin implementing this technology in California.
The CEC study found that piezoelectric energy could produce electricity at “between $0.08-$0.20” per kilowatt hour, making it cheaper than almost all current technologies. This is particularly impressive, especially considering that this energy is currently uncaptured and, therefore, wasted.
Piezoelectric technology has been used for years in sonar and touchscreen phones. In 2009, the East Japan Railway Company installed piezoelectric flooring in its Tokyo railway station, using the energy generated by passing pedestrians to power all displays in the station. Israel has already placed this technology under some highways, and Italy has signed a contract to place the technology under a stretch of the Venice-to-Trieste Autostrada. A dance club in San Francisco has even piloted the technology under its dance floor to run its lighting.
I believe it’s time to capture the energy otherwise lost from roadside and railway vibrations and put it to good use.
The CEC’s workshop presentation is available at http://www.energy.ca.gov/research/notices/2015-09-14_workshop/presentations/Breakthrough_Piezoelectric_Workshop_Presentation_2015-09-11.pdf.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, and the longest-serving current member of the State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit www.asm.ca.gov/gatto.