The internet’s been buzzing with news of solar-panel roads in the U.S. and beyond. But there’s another energy-generating technology that may be better suited to producing power on the country’s highways, and a California legislator is already pushing to test the technology next year.
Piezoelectric sensors embedded beneath a roadway could use the vibrations from passing trucks and cars to produce an electric charge. Roughly the shape and size of a watch battery, the sensors work by reacting to compression, and en masse, can create a significant amount of power. Thousands of the sensors could be wired together and then paved over, and a 1.5-mile section of a two-lane highway embedded with the technology would generate enough energy to power 1,000 homes, according to California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who first discussed the technology’s potential with legislators in 2011.
Gatto is working with the state’s Energy Commission to launch a series of pilot roads to test the feasibility of the technology in 2017. Similar technology has been widely promoted by a British start-up called Pavegen, which built a soccer field in Rio that is partially powered by player movement.
Many of the potential pitfalls of solar road systems—namely, the durability and efficiency of these panels after being run over by thousands and thousands of vehicles—don’t apply with the piezoelectric technology. Additionally, Gatto points out that the sensors could be efficiently, and perhaps more cost-effectively, be embedded in roads already slated for resurfacing.