California Roads to Become a Source of Energy

Assemblyman Gatto Successfully Persuades the California Energy Commission to Install Piezoelectric Roads


Shortly after being elected, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) had a conversation with a friend who had just returned from Israel. Expecting to hear emotional descriptions of religious sites, Gatto was surprised to hear his friend rave instead about a road that produced energy.

After researching the issue, Gatto learned that engineers in Israel, Italy, and Japan had successfully installed piezoelectric sensors underneath roadways and railways. Those sensors, the size of watch batteries, are in effect thereverse of sonar: a vibration comes in, and an electric pulse comes out. In 2011, Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced AB 306, which would have implemented two piezoelectric pilot projects on California freeways, but the legislation was vetoed by Governor Brown. Undeterred, Gatto asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to study the issue. Today, after years of research, the CEC announced it would be funding multiple piezoelectric pilot projects throughout California.

“I still get stopped on the street by people who ask what happened to the idea of using our roads to generate electricity,” said Gatto. “California is the car capitol of the world, and we recycle just about everything. So why not capture the energy from road vibrations, and put it to good use?”

Piezoelectric technology has been used for years in sonar and electric guitars. In 2009, the East Japan Railway Company installed piezoelectric flooring in their 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 their dance floor to run their lighting. Scientists estimate the energy generated from a 10 mile stretch of four-lane roadway can power the entire City of Burbank.

“Thirty years ago, no one would have believed that black silicon panels in the desert could generate ‘ solar’ power,” said Gatto. “Piezoelectric technology is real, and I am glad the state has finally acknowledged its potential in becoming an energy source.”

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Utilities & Commerce Committee and the longest-serving current member of the State Assembly. He represents California’s 43rd Assembly District, which includes Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles.