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By John Biggs
January 29, 2018
Human footsteps generating electricity might conjure up images from Michael Jackson’s iconic “Billie Jean” music video, but the technology has leapt from the annals of music fantasy and into reality. Cities from Washington, D.C. to Rio de Janeiro to London are harnessing energy from everyday pavement-pounding to power street lights and more.
Renewable energy like wind, hydroelectric and solar are already moving from niche to mainstream as the world’s electricity usage increases exponentially, and fossil fuel consumption is no longer seen as a permanently viable solution to the world’s energy demands. Kinetic energy generated by human footfalls is perhaps one of the world’s greatest untapped sources of power, and forward-thinking companies have begun implementing specially designed pavers, tiles and walkways to capture that energy and convert it to usable electricity.
One of the companies leading the kinetic pavers charge, London-based Pavegen, said the technology works using electromagnetic induction generators, which vertically displace from the weight of human footsteps. That displacement motion creates the energy, which is then fed to generators as usable electricity. A single footstep can power an LED street lamp for 30 seconds, according to CNN.
All motion generates kinetic energy, and until recently that energy outputted by the countless billions of human footsteps taken every day has gone to waste. The technology to harvest that energy on a large scale has potentially world-changing implications, opening the possibility of generating electricity using one of the cleanest and most plentiful energy sources on the planet. The technology has been proven viable through installations in more than 100 sites worldwide.
Pavegen recently kitted out a 107-square-foot section of sidewalk on London’s trendy Bird Street shopping district with kinetic pavers, in what the company calls “the world’s first “Smart Street.” The triangular, interconnected tiles utilize energy generated by passers-by to power nearby street lights. It also created an app to show pedestrians how much energy their footfalls generate during their stroll past nearby shops, and even offers coupons to the stores along the route. It’s a small but meaningful demonstration of what is possible with the technology.
A similar installation by Pavegen on Washington D.C.’s Connecticut Avenue, the first in the U.S., sends power to 68 generators that energize an interactive light display at the nearby Connecticut Avenue pocket park. The energy collected also powers LED lighting lining granite seating along the city’s Golden Triangle business district, according to the Washington Post.
Beneath the AstroTurf on a soccer field in Rio de Janeiro, approximately 200 of Pavegen’s energy-capturing tiles cover the entire surface, capturing the energy from players’ footsteps to power the field’s nighttime lighting flood lights, along with a series of solar panels. A youth soccer team was the first to test the system on the pitch, located in the Morro da Mineira slum. According to the Daily Mail, engineer and Pavegen head Laurence Kemball-Cook said that each tile costs approximately $500, but that the price is dropping as the company fine-tunes its manufacturing process.
Pavegen recently partnered with Google to install the world’s largest energy-harvesting walkway for Berlin’s 2017 Festival of Lights. The 26-square-meter installation is connected to a display of 176 light panels in the walls of the installation, all powered by the steps of the nearly two-million visitors the festival sees each year.
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