When I was young and first learning about how energy was generated, we were taught the importance of renewables and creating electricity from resources that could be used without being used up. So I wracked my little brain to come up with something new that could be added to the tiny graphics on our worksheets. What was there a lot of? The sea was taken, as was the wind, sun, and geothermal sites, so instead my colourful 10 year old mind turned to the obvious – roads. But making clean energy from the use of fossil fuels was backwards so I went a step further – pavements. Producing power from pavements was key, but far beyond my capabilities so I filed it away under ‘too complicated’ until late last year when I stumbled across Pavegen.
An image of a pedestrian with their tagline “every step generates a powerful connection” brought everything flooding back. Could it be? Had they made my naive thoughts a reality? Have they done the impossible? I scrolled down their website to see more pictures: a pavement, a ‘smart city’, people walking and producing… useable energy.
It’s real. It’s here. I should have started my research all those years ago. But most importantly – it’s tiles. What began as the simple thought to produce clean electricity through the power of footsteps (by CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook, and unfortunately not by myself) inspired by the immense footfall of Victoria Station led to the first Pavegen prototype. A rectangle with a single generator produced in his Brixton bedroom was the start. But it needed testing, and it needed investment.
The story goes that he installed the little tile, without permission, at a building site so he would take some pictures and generate some interest. Hundreds of prototypes later the gamble clearly paid off. A clean electricity producing kinetic floor tile was created all the way back in 2009. Each piece consists of an electro-magnetic generator, a singular composite tile, and requires the movement of people to help generate approximately 3-5 joules of off-grid energy per step.
The energy produced can either be used instantly, for interactive advertisements or lighting, or can be stored in batteries and used later. Located in malls, walkways, transport hubs, and educational facilities, Pavegen makes use of existing behaviours to produce a passive stream of electricity with every step to help power E-ink screens, USB charging ports and LED lights.
It’s not just energy that Pavegen generates. Data from footsteps is used to educate and inform people about how much power they have generated and what that is capable of powering, such as how long an LED bulb can be powered for and the distance a typical Electric Vehicle (EV) can travel.
Pavegen is already installed across the world, offering interactive brand experiences and kinetic citizen engagement at live events, such as Dubai Expo, the Ford Essence Festival in the USA, the Milan Marathon, and World Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan, as well as in permanent installations in shops, transport hubs, stadia, schools, and airports.
A recent use case outside a railway station in Telford, UK has seen a Pavegen kinetic pavement helping to power USB mobile phone charging in street furniture. Affectionately described by the media as the ‘bouncy pavement’ data and insights from the tiles are communicated to the public via a digital display screen. The addition of LED lighting strips along the length of the paving makes for an attractive night-time addition. As well as mobile charging, street furniture can also feature LED lighting, wifi and sensors that record environmental data.
Pavegen are careful to not make any claims to be the answer to the energy crisis. Far from it, because every step generates just 3-5 joules of energy. The problem that Pavegen solve is different – one of engagement, education and awareness around sustainability and environmental impact.
Telford & Wrekin Council, for example, recently installed their ‘bouncy pavement’ to help raise public awareness of a £4m investment in wider sustainability and ESG initiatives; encouraging the local community to get involved in helping to save the planet by living more sustainable lives. The Company call this Citizen Impact, powered by Pavegen.
Those in the real estate industry, such as architects, urban designers and developers increasingly see Pavegen as an attractive and innovative way to involve the public in sustainable energy. Kinetic Green Wall installations are a recent innovation, where the irrigation system of the Kinetic Green Wall is powered by footsteps. The addition of interactive lighting and AV screens, help organisations connect meaningfully with building occupants, or the general public. It looks great too!
Depending on the level of footfall, Pavegen claim the tile has a life of 20 years before needing to be refurbished or replaced, and it can withstand extremes of heat, cold and wet weather. For short-term installations at live events, expo’s and festivals – aka: Kinetic Brand Experiences – there is no component or tile waste. Everything is returned to Pavegen to re-use, repair or refurbish as necessary – a step towards a circular economy.
A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, and Paul Price of Pavegen, February 2023.