Idea to harness power from highways earns international economics award

Issue date: 02 May 2017


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Research by a University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) academic exploring the idea of harnessing power from roads has been recognised in an international economics prize.

Dr David Williams has received a Lightbulb Award for originality from judges in the Wolfson Economics Prize, the second largest economics award in the world behind Nobel.

The Research Associate at UWE Bristol's Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments advocates that roads need to do more than just provide a place to travel if we want to maintain them to a high standard to improve road safety. He believes that if they could generate power, they could earn money to fund their repair and expansion.

Under his idea, roads could be used to make solar electricity. A system of heat pumps could extract the energy to produce power and be used in winter to melt ice and cool the road surface in the summer, reducing wear and prolonging lifespan. Systems making power from rain water, wind power and kinetic energy should be tried together, according to Dr Williams. He says combining different sources of power could make the idea affordable and consistent, and provide additional funding to deliver other local authority services.

The second recipient of the Lightbulb Award this year was Edward Glaeser, an economics professor from Harvard who produced an entry on autonomous vehicles.

Dr Williams said: “I am incredibly proud to have won this award for a concept that has been in my head for the past 14 years. It was worth using my free time to create an idea that I can now take to the research councils, the government and industry to hopefully win funding and explore the concept further in the future.”

Shortlisted finalists for the main Wolfson Economics Prize of £250,000 – to be awarded in July - include a recent graduate from UCL; an Australian start-up firm; a former lawyer; an economist and her husband, the President of the Automobile Association (the AA); and an Economics consultancy.

All entrants to the awards were challenged to help solve one of the greatest infrastructure challenges of modern times – making roads better, safer and more reliable in a way that is fair to road users and good for the economy and the environment.

The five finalists and two Lightbulb Award winners were chosen by a senior panel of judges including Lord Darling (the former Chancellor of the Exchequer), Sir John Kingman (Group Chairman, Legal & General and the former Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury), Isabel Dedring (Global Transport Leader, Arup, and previously London's Deputy Mayor for Transport), Lord Finkelstein (Associate Editor at The Times) and Bridget Rosewell OBE (leading economist).

The 2017 prize received over 120 entries from seven countries including the UK, US, Australia, Finland, Romania, Turkey and India.

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