The next step for renewable energy

At 2015’s Paris climate summit, 195 countries agreed to take action to limit global temperature rises to less than 2°C. Renewable energies are expected to play a major role if we are to achieve these goals but the industry’s capacity to respond is far from certain.

On the one hand, figures from Eurostat, an EU statistics agency, show that between 2003 and 2013, the share of “clean” energy generated in the EU rose by 84.4% – to around 25% of today’s total. If this continues, the 2°C target seems viable.

However, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2015 “Energy Technology Perspectives” paper reminds us that a larger, and richer, global population expects ever more energy, and fossil fuel consumption continues unabated. The report reminds policymakers that “inventions do not become innovations until they are deployed at scales sufficient to have an impact”. One company attempting to do just that is UK clean energy firm, Pavegen.

Pavegen has created an innovative renewable energy technology, which comes in the form of a paving tile. Whenever an individual steps on the tile, it shifts almost imperceptibly and puts pressure on a generator underfoot, creating electricity from kinetic energy. The latest iteration of the tile, released in May 2016, can create up to five watts of electricity per step. This allows members of the public to light up street lamps, charge phones and, in ultimately, participate in the creation of the electricity they use.

Pavegen is growing fast and its tiles, which are made from recycled materials, have been used around the world. Installations include a partnership with Shell to light up football pitches in the shanty towns of Lagos and Rio de Janeiro, a collaboration with Samsung to help power a shopping mall in Johannesburg and implementations at sporting events.

The London based firm also participated in the Cognicity Challenge at Canary Wharf, a competition aimed at exploring the possible technologies of tomorrow’s smart cities. Pavegen’s tiles were laid at the main entrance of the Canary Wharf underground station, and sensors in the tiles provided data on footfall as pedestrians entered and exited the station. With widespread adoption, this kind of information could help city planners design urban spaces to better reflect needs.

Company founder, Laurence Kemball-Cook has great ambitions for the tile, telling me: “The future of Pavegen, sees us situated at the heart of the smart cities of tomorrow. Every step on our tiles will curate informative data that will tell us how people move in our cities, in every transport hub, every shopping mall, airport and high density public space.”

Beyond contributing to a smarter, more efficient city, he believes the tiles could also contribute in the push towards a greener future. “Our technology aims to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers to diversify the renewable energy mix, to tackle the current energy crisis and reduce reliance on fossil fuels,” Mr Kemball-Cook added.

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