Imagine being able to collect the energy of every person walking up and down the stairs from the Spinnaker Tower viewing platform in Portsmouth, UK. That is the proposal being put forward by David Webb, from the British consultancy of Scott Wilson. His hope is to install miniature “heel-strike” generators underneath the stairs that would capture the power generated by a person as they walk down the tower. His ultimate goal is to install them in every rail station, shopping center and even in your shoes!
The idea behind the technology is remarkably simple. Everything moves, and everything that moves is expending some form of energy – kinetic energy to be precise. Some of this energy generally goes to waste, after all if you hit your foot on the ground, very little will actually happen. But thanks to advances in technology, it is now possible to recover some of that energy and turn it into electricity. The two most common technologies are piezoelectric materials, and heel strike generators.
According to Webb, if these generators were to be installed at the Victoria Underground Station in central London, the power generated by the 34,000 people moving around would be able to power approximately 6,500 lightbulbs. The technology also has application beyond the small steps. Plans are afoot to look into installing these devices in the tower itself, to harness energy from the swaying movement of the building!
Kinetic energy is looking more and more promising, particularly as a way to create small amounts of energy for individual devices. Expect to hear more about this field in the coming months.