We all know the benefits of walking: the health benefits, reduced emissions, and the feeling of relief that you are away from your computer. Now imagine a world where we see and hear public service announcements admonishing us to walk in order to gain energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Well, there is a possibility we could stomp our way to such a future. The city of Toulouse, in southwestern France, is studying the potential of installing energy-absorbing sidewalk panels that would transform pedestrian steps into power that would fuel the city’s street lights.
Here’s how it works. A Dutch firm, Sustainable Dance Club (SDC), has designed panels that Toulouse engineers can install under the sidewalk in the city’s center. These eight panels would be able to power anywhere from 30 to 60 watts of electricity, enough to power a street lamp. Each time these panels are stepped, or stomped, they compress about half an inch. A tiny motor converts that power into electricity.
Similar panels are already available for sale. According to SDC, its product “is the first dance floor that captures the energy of dancing.” Movement on these panels converts into electricity, and depending on the intensity of power, the color of these panels change, “allowing every individual’s actions to contribute to the collective experience.”
SDC’s technicians realized that what was good for the club was not necessarily good for the sidewalk. A Toulouse official revealed that when the panels were first tested, they would only work when stomped on. SDC then re-engineered the panesl so that they could work for normal walking, by people of all sizes and shapes. Many authorities and those in the general public were skeptical, but to the bemusement of many, the panels actually work.
The technology is far from scalable, however. The first obstacle is cost, and no one can give a clear answer as to the maintenance and longevity of the magical electrifying panels. But SDC has been inundated with requests to test the product, and the firm believes there is application in high-traffic areas like train stations and sports facilities. In fact, Rotterdam’s football stadium will start a similar pilot program.
Toulouse, the Silicon Valley of France, is a natural testing ground for technologies like that of SDC’s. We may not be stepping completely away from fossil fuels anytime soon, but projects like this spur interest and innovation, and that is hardly a negative.