Step by step by step by step we move forward. Each and every one of us makes thousands of steps every single day. Be it frantically running around the bedroom to find that last clean shirt or walking down to the shops to get a cold beer you earned for putting so much effort into finding a clean shirt. In total a person walks up to 150 million steps in their lifetime. Whether you live in Sweden, Zimbabwe or Guatemala: walking is unarguably the most common way of transport.
So what if I told you that each and every single one of those steps has the potential to generate sustainable energy; that we can move away from fossil fuel-based energy simply by walking?
Making this vision reality is exactly what Laurence Kemball-Cook, the founder of Pavegen is trying to achieve. In 2009 he engineered a flooring tile that can transform the kinetic energy that is released through a step into energy and save this energy in a battery. This battery can then be utilized to power street lighting, advertisements or charge phones for example. A big asset of this kind of energy is that it is off-grid and, not like solar or wind energy, independent from weather developments.
As Kemball-Cook explains in a TEDx talk in Rio, first trials were successfully made in a school, and public awareness rose rapidly. Newspapers started writing and politicians and celebrities stated their support for the idea. With this positive response the start-up started growing. By 2012 they had built a football field in Brazil lighting is now powered by the movement of people playing or walking on it. Today several big places such as train stations, airports and commercial sites are already equipped with the floor, producing energy every day. Moreover, similar firms such as energy-floors are already developing which is an indicator for the economic viability of the idea for producers but also for consumers
The exact cost information is currently not released to the media but in an interview with Forbes Cook claims that “ a standard square meter of decent flooring that would be used in a building such as a train station would cost around 1000 pounds and Pavegen will be sold for around that price”. Furthermore, even if the cost still is slightly higher it will be compensated for by the energy saved while it is in use. In the long run the tiles are expected to become even more affordable for several reasons. The production is going to be less pricy when done on a larger scale and the batteries, a crucial component, will become cheaper with the help of Tesla’s gigafactory. Seeing these developments, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of energy-producing flooring.
Pavegen secured his market position by releasing a new tile: V3. The V3 produces 200 times more energy than its predecessor and also collects data about the steps made on it. This double function makes the flooring even more attractive for the interconnected, data driven city of the future. However, in addition to green energy and data collection the tile might be able to fulfill a third very important function: spreading awareness and involving people in sustainability on a personal level.
Harvesting human power as an energy source has the potential to show that every individual can contribute. The flooring can make this connection visible in a way that only few other solutions can. Be it by charging your own phone by dancing at a festival or lighting your own way when walking home.
The immediate response to your own action is an empowering and motivating experience. It basically sais: you can make a change. Since we all walk and all use public spaces such as train stations, clubs, shopping streets or airports this will permeate every level of society and hopefully give a more accessible image to the sustainability debate. Because for you it might only be a small step but if we all make it, it is one giant leap for mankind.