Gareth Huw Davies

Environment / Green Technology

Pavegen more than a walk on part in renewable energy generation

Could renewable energy start-up Pavegen become the Tesla of walking?

Most of us, unless we have lost the use of our legs, walk some distance every day. Some of us are walking more, to meet health and fitness targets, with 10,000 steps a day one popular challenge.

So perhaps citing a company that could soon be a world leader, if it is not already that, in generating energy from footfall, is maybe getting the comparison the wrong way round.

Perhaps it ought to be: ”Isn’t Tesla the Pavegen of driving”?

Which is clearly ridiculous. Tesla is a $30-billion company, poised to transform motoring with the launch of an electric car, the Model 3, already pre-ordered by 375,000 potential customers; and increasingly involved in other areas such as the PowerWall, a battery for home renewable energy storage. Tesla is even contemplating colonising Mars.

All Pavegen has done so far is develop a tile that captures minute amounts of energy, and followed it with a second tile, the triangular V3, which is said to capture 200 times more. Still scarcely a technology fit to capture the world?

And yet walking is one of life’s (free) certainties. People all around the globe take prodigious numbers of footsteps every day, many of them on the sort of hard surface that could easily be laid with energy-capturing tiles, capable of generating significant amounts of power – about 5 watts per step, so far.

On the other hand, it will be some years before Tesla do produce a vehicle, or renewable energy-storing battery, cheap enough to be bought by the masses. Pavegen’s inexpensive tiles are already up and, well, walking.

I have a small indication of how much interest there is in Pavegen, through my website. It doesn’t have a big reach, so this is more passing observation than big claim, but for the past year and a half the several articles I have posted on the company and its products have consistently attracted the biggest number of hits. It’s a small sample, but, to me, clear proof that people are interested in the subject.

Several words of caution here. Few pieces of technology immediately take the world by storm, as the iPhone and the iPad did in 2008 and 2011. The revolutionary all-electric car, the Nissan Leaf, launched in 2010, is still a very small presence on (at least) British roads six years on.

I could add the Vertical Axis Wind Turbine, launched in 2007 and showcased at the London Olympics in 2012, a piece of exciting renewable-energy technology, an alternative to the conventional spinning blades, which seemed just right for the urban environment. Yet, beset with financial difficulties, it has made only a slight impact.

But there is something very direct and essential about the Pavegen tile, already been tested in multiple locations. The V3 version, announced in May, 2016, and launched in the US in September 2016, is promised for Oxford Street in London and Washington DC shortly.

Unlike the previous model, which had edges that did not actually generate power, the triangular V3 has a generator at each corner, to optimise energy capture. (The weight of footsteps makes a flywheel underneath the tile rotate, converting the downward force of a footstep into electricity).

In Pavegen’s earlier version of the tile, which was square, pedestrians had to hit a (hidden) hotspot in the centre, where the flywheel was. Stepping on the edges meant no power was generated.

The new tile eliminates those dead-spots, so not a step is wasted. It will be used to power low-voltage off-grid applications such as street lights.

It’s hard to see how such a straightforward technology can not have a promising future. And there must surely be tweaks and improvements to come. For as long as people continue to walk around, these or similar tiles will continue to produce energy. All amounts, but it will keep coming in the same never-ending way that the tide laps on the seashore throughout eternity.

Let’s see what the new tiles, which it says are durable and simple to fit, for “around” the price of good quality flooring you might see in a train station, can do. Let’s hear how many light bulbs they power, to make the technology accessible to the non-technical consumer over the
coming the coming months and years.

Once people realise the power of their feet, there is no reason why these tiles should not be everywhere.