Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In praise of traffic.....

Mumbai's monsoon is back with a vengeance. Flooded roads, floating trash, fallen trees, an occasional ruminating cow, umbrellas that flip backward in the wind, and a fine trickle of water at the back of my neck as I navigate on a narrow strip between a huge ditch and the oncoming traffic, trying to balance my shopping and the umbrella.

I am just back from a drenched visit to the local market, to get veggies and stuff. Between stepping in unusually and misleadingly deep slush, dodging bulldozers, getting my clothes (and sometimes even me), studded with a batik design in dirt, every time a bus passes through a loaded pothole , and glaring at motorcycle chaps who underestimate human girth as they try and drive between me lugging bags, and a bus, I have been avidly looking for some secret meaning in this mess.

The monsoon wouldn't be so bad , if it weren't for all this traffic. And since nothing changes, and only gets worse, it occurred to me, that maybe there is a different way of looking for advantages , if any, in it.

If we only learnt to see.....

Profits to be made from Mumbai's disastrous traffic ? And a chance to immortalize the preposterous potholes ?

I can already see the gleam in the eyes and hear the jingling in the pockets , of the opportunistic folks , lying (pun intended) in wait , amidst the powers that be.

Turns out, that there is electricity to be generated from all this traffic , going "thump" over potholes and speed breakers , the latter , invisible in the rivers of muddy water.

The Israeli scientists at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa , have developed a road that generates electricity when traffic passes over it. Hundreds of rugged metallic crystals when put under pressure , generate electricity. So they are lined up in special pads buried under the road, and they create power. It is called 'piezo' electricity.
This piezo stuff has been known for ages, , but never used like this before. One truck can generate 2,000 volts, but to create useful electricity you need a lot of amperes too and that requires many pads over hundreds of metres and a high percentage of traffic. A kilometre of 'electric road' could generate enough power for 40 houses.

Then there is a chap called Terry Kenney who is making all the 2500-trucks-per-day truck traffic in the port at Oakland, Ca., USA, pass over some hydraulic tanks below the ground to generate electricity. The prototype power station he has designed , that he calls "Dragon", should generate about 5,000 to 7,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each day, or enough to power up to 1,750 homes.

How can the Japanese be far behind ? The vibrations of every passing vehicle are now being turned into electricity powering one of 108 LED (light-emitting diode) lights on the GoshikiZakura Ohashi bridge over the Arakawa River in Tokyo's downtown Adachi Ward . The LED light shines because it is connected to 10 generators set beneath the roadbed of the Metropolitan Expressway crossing the bridge, where vehicles' vibrations make the pendulums in the generators swing and so generate electricity.

The Israelis and Japanese folks are also using trains and train stations to capture, the pressure on the ground, of millions of rushing footfalls, to generate electricity. Probably enough to even light up the stations.

I can see several ways we can benefit.

The suburban train system, with its overflowing passengers adding considerable weight to the compartments will be ideal for putting pressure on some piezo type crystals embedded below the rails. Train stations will simply glow at rush hour, and the train terminii that see millions of footfalls a day can probably generate enough electricity to be able to donate some, to power those living close by , who have a life, but no electricity.

No dependence on rain, cheating multinationals like Enron, corrupt politicians, and lopsided national policies .

The arterial road outside our campus, which has been under construction for donkey's years, and has several unlighted stretches, (causing several accidents at night), is probably ideally suited for installing these crystals or hydraulic pads or whatever. You can even save the digging costs and sign a Memorandum of "Understanding" (MOU) with the diggers, who could be the municipal types, the telephone types , or the simple road-digging types.

Every time you go "thump ", in a pothole, you are doing public service, and never mind your shock absorbers. Every time there is sudden braking at speed because a cow is meandering across, you have double credit, because you generated power and saved a cow.

Contractors assigned road work will now start collecting carbon credits based on how many potholes get recreated in how much time, again and again. They were already doing that to make money anyway; the potholes, that is. The already existing , but unmentioned nexus between municipal staff and road contractors that specialises in maximizing costs to maximize a percentage cut, will simply make all go ballistic and delirious with greed.

You dig, we give you lights.

But this being Mumbai, there will have to be various built in safeguards.

Like, most of this crystal stuff will have to be strongly water proofed. The monsoon has never deterred the municipal types from leaving open gaping manholes, where work could be in process. Maybe this is a helpless situation in view of several folks who make a career out of stealing manhole covers and selling the metal . It's possible that the sheer pressure of flowing monsoon water could wash away entire crystal units and deposit themselves elsewhere, giving electric shocks to unsuspecting folks, in random places.

The water supply department and telephone department, who always point fingers at one another when careless digging causes problems, will now have another place to point fingers : The automatic electricity department.

The invisible set of goons in Mumbai who specialise in drawing electricity for free, from random connections , and selling it to deprived folks living in slums, will need to be kept out of this. Science has never deterred them, powered as they are by political blessings in the form of some one's inability to notice...... Or you will see a patch of road in darkness while a wedding takes place in full illumination , in an area that had no power till last week.

The nice part is that this will reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The bad part is hat it will give an excuse to increase the number of cars in Mumbai, something already bursting at the seams. Because the technology is easily locally creatable, and implementable as and where traffic passes, the government will be discouraged from charging toll, every time it introduces a new facility.

I just hope they work out some scheme whereby I get lit up with some electric exciting thing, as I make that 7 second dash across the road to cross it , given the very bad ,unable-to-stop traffic that threatens to knock me down at the signal.

No, this wasn't a practice session to make the Olympic sprint team. I am more the hurdles-with-tomatoes type. But they didnt call me for trials out of consideration for the actual hurdles.

Maybe the pedestrian crossing can emit sparks as I cross, tomatoes, brinjals, cucumbers , beans and all, totally lit up for the world to see.

Possibly, even the limes....

My 7 seconds of the limelight.... :-)..

(On a serious note, one realizes that this kind of technology is expensive; but if properly initiated and implemented, it will benefit the common people of Mumbai, who travel in buses and trains, and even walk, when things get very expensive. It makes sense to have stations and roadsides nicely lighted. And this technology will pay for itself in the long run. The cost of fuelled cars driving over the roads will be set off against the electricity produced.

Where do you get the money ? The eternal question !

The same place where you got it for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, now supposed to be the Rajiv Gandhi Setu (=bridge), which actually benefits only the car drivers , who pay a toll, through their nose, wanting to drive to South Mumbai, which is already congested. This Sealink does not allow 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers, besides 2 legged entities, with or without payment. And none of the worthies patronizing the Sea Link will help produce Electricty...)


  1. And i was thinking how we could channelise all the runs and cyclings and lifting done in a gym towards more uplifting tasks like 'nation building' !

    And today, you tell me of possibilities of generating electricity and such else from traffic jams !

    Whoa ! How cool would that be. And maybe some component of the time you spend on the road will be deducted from your monthly electricity bill ! How cool would that be !! ( Greed rules )

    And yes..if all the gyms in the high raises are connected, there are far too many people who can contribute to 'lighting up a village' !

    Hmm. I am too excited to think of possibilities...

    Wait a minute, can that excitement generatet power...?

  2. Great pictures.
    I have read somewhere the capacity of Mumbai local train is around 1500 and about 4000 plus people travel.
    And same with the Buses mostly seen with the display about standees and more people always standing.
    Sad ! Sad ! Sad !

  3. Wow! a picture is worth thousand words all right! I'll stop complaining about our crappy transportation system and lousy roads! Right now they're looking pretty good! I know the temperatures are cooler now, but you do have to pay for that with all the rain, and there again, I can so relate!! Try to stay dry!

  4. That's one way to make lemonade (electricity) out of a lemon (Heavy traffic). I had never heard of this, but it sounds like a winner. We have to stop relying on fossil fuels.

    All that traffic is pumping more CO2 into the air than the alternate energy savings you will realize from the electricity generated. I think we should all take up the problem of transportation first.

  5. 'A kilometre of 'electric road' could generate enough power for 40 houses.'

    If this was feasible think of how it would benefit the layman who has to put up with so much loadshedding! what are our techies doing? Why do small countries like Japan and Israel beat us hands down always?

  6. Great idea and great post!

    I thnk you should be in charge of policy-making for Mumbai!:)

  7. Kya idea hain Sirjee (oops Madamji ;))!!!!

    Jokes apart...the condition in mumbai is really pathetic....for that matter, why only mumbai?
    take any indian city and the plight is pathetically same...

  8. I shake my head when I see the pictures from your country. The drivers here are going crazy with a 5 minute delay.

    These are good ideas. So often I hear of ideas to create energy, but nothing seems to come of it.

    I like you are trying to look at the bright side, and with a sideways grin.

  9. Kavi Yes, the technology exists. But it will probably be dissipated wildly, as soon as those folks with POWER turn their attention to it as another profit venture.

    Hobo I think we are experts at overutilising everything. Train travel has almost become an acrobatic exercise now...

    Sylvia Sometimes I think we can do conducted tours of our roads here, for people from "advanced " countries.....they will probably go back and donate a couple of $ more to their city authorities....

    Darlene What you say about improving transportation is so true. Unfortunately, here, transport seems to simply mean cars. As for the lemonade-from-lemons, we in India keep adding things like pepper,ginger,saffron,cardamom etc to it. Its never straight and simple ...

    Hip Grandma Hmm. Dont get me started on municipal corruption. Most things should be possible , if it weren't for this.

    Manju Dont know about the policy stuff, but aI think I function best as a police....:-)

    SGD Idea is good, sirjee, but like Abhishek B in the latest ad, all we can do is Makkhi maro...:-)

    Lou Like I told Sylvia, maybe I should start these tours to show our roads and traffic. fastest method of silencing your country's road delay critics. And Lou, while i do look on the bright side, that sideways grin is getting more and more painful...

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