Dec 27, 2017 - 4min read
Pavegen has hit upon a highly unique way of generating renewable energy. Where solar and wind power can be difficult to incorporate into highly built-up areas, Pavegen have found a way to capture clean energy that integrates seamlessly and efficiently into urban landscapes.
Pavegen’s V3 is their third generation renewable energy-generating paving tile – a triangular composite slab that can be tessellated to create a walkway, and which activates an electromagnetic generator when depressed. In short, it’s a power station in the shape of a pavement; the energy is generated by people walking on it.
“Our technology is a response to climate change,” says Pavegen founder Laurence Kemball-Cook. “During college I would commute regularly through Victoria Station. It has around half a million people passing through it every day and that’s when I began to think about somehow using the ambient energy from people and footfall as a source of clean, renewable energy.”
This ambient energy is just there for the taking in cities. Once you start looking at the world from this perspective, large crowds become an untapped and potentially significant source of power – without individuals having to necessarily change their behaviour in any way whatsoever. All that needs to change is the technology around them. Laurence began testing prototypes after he graduated, and set up Pavegen in 2009.
“The V3 technology is 200 times more efficient than our initial prototype,” says Laurence. “The unique triangular configuration means that the tiles’ connected surface moves as a whole, so we can situate a generator under each point of the tiles and convert much more energy per square metre than our previous models.”
The tiles can be used anywhere – they’re IP68 water resistant – and the flywheels (the components which store rotational energy) are durable and will operate in any weather. The size of the triangles and the resistance in the flywheels have been modelled using data on the length, speed and force of human steps – and with built-in Low-Power Bluetooth connectivity, real-time footfall can be analysed to collect even more data about how people interact with Pavegen.
“We use this information to maximise efficiency,” says Laurence, “so we can capture as much of the available energy from footfall as possible to produce a steady stream of off-grid energy and data.”
It’s when Pavegen is connected to a battery that it becomes a full-system off-grid power supply – capable of storing up and discharging energy as needed. To this end, Pavegen’s Smart Controller combines energy storage, measurement and load control into a single smart device.
“Battery storage enables our clients to deploy energy at the time when it is needed,” says Laurence. “In Dupont Circle, Washington DC, three sections of Pavegen are being used to capture the footsteps of around 10,000 visitors a day. This off-grid electricity is being stored in a local battery which then powers the lights of a nearby pocket park when it gets dark.”
Currently, Pavegen has 30 permanent installations like Dupont Circle worldwide, essentially operating as proofs of concept for a much grander vision. Laurence sees Pavegen’s role in the future as key to creating a smarter, more sustainable urban environment.
“As cities decarbonize – adopting electrification, battery storage and autonomous delivery systems – we’re seeing a shift away from spaces for cars to infrastructure that supports health and wellbeing. By taking a Pavegen-enabled path through the city, we can reward people and generate some useful off-grid energy along the way. That’s our future.”
Imagine the potential power of an entirely pedestrianised Oxford Street, paved from end to end with Pavegen. Imagine office blocks and airports using Pavegen as flooring, generating their own energy from the thousands of people that pass through their doors. Pavegen aims to achieve a price point that can make these possibilities a reality.
It’s the scalability of this vision – and the interactivity of the product itself – that makes Pavegen so effective as an educational tool and as a live experience. For Berlin’s 2017 Festival of Lights, Pavegen partnered with Google to build their largest single energy-harvesting walkway – powering two parallel walls of coloured, flashing lights (shown above).
“Pavegen can generate instant feedback via lighting, visual displays, sounds and via apps,” says Laurence. “This interactivity has enabled us to work with the some of the most iconic global brands including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Shell. And all our projects aim to generate positive societal and environmental impact through engagement with sustainability.”
Pavegen is a beautifully simple, exquisitely engineered demonstration of the idea that clean, renewable energy is all around us. And while it may be some time until we can make optimal use of it, Pavegen is – quite literally – taking millions of steps in the right direction.