June 1, 2011
A Step in the Right Direction
Generating electricity through applied pressure is a rapidly evolving technology.
Nascent energy technologies are never perfect, and the idea of generating electricity through pedestrians’ footsteps is certainly no exception. The underlying principle is sound enough: piezoelectricity is a well-established form of energy derived from applied pressure, such as footsteps. But we’re talking about very small amounts of energy here—enough to power a streetlight perhaps, but not a city block or even a small office.
At least not yet. A nominee for this year’s Brit Insurance Design Awards, London’s Pavegen Systems is one of several scrappy young enterprises trying to take piezoelectric technology to the next level. Its Pavegen slabs can be used indoors or outdoors to generate up to ten watts per footstep. This is a tiny quantity, but with numerous slabs in a well-trafficked area, it can add up. “The best applications are low-energy lighting systems—so anything from way-finding to advertising to street lighting to ambient solutions on buildings,” says Laurence Kemball-Cook, the company’s managing director. “We work with our clients to deliver the applications they need. If you told me that you wanted to power the lighting in an office, then we’d spec a system to do that.”
Pavegen’s existing installations have been relatively modest, but that is about to change, too. Its next project is Westfield Stratford City, a 1.9 million-square-foot megamall opening in London’s Olympic Park in time for the 2012 games. The energy-harvesting slabs will help power the mall’s lighting. Kemball-Cook is reluctant to disclose any more details about the project, except to say, “It’s going to be absolutely huge.”