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Instead of Lamenting the Urban Heat Island Effect, Why Don’t We Harness It?

Researchers are already at work turning toasty asphalt into energy cities can actually use.
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By now you are probably well familiar with the concept of the urban heat island effect, even if you can’t quite pinpoint the physics at play when your sneaker sole melts a little on a hot black street in July. Asphalt is an awesome material for storing the sun’s heat. On a steamy summer day, the surface of a road may be as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. And it’ll stay that miserable long after the sun sets, pushing up the temperature of whole neighborhoods covered in this blacktop.

A lot of work has gone into figuring out how to combat the effect. We could plant more tree cover. We could paint black surfaces white. We could construct… artificial glaciers. But this idea might top them all: Why don’t we use that heat instead of fighting it?