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RENEWABLE ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES FOR A CITY: KINETIC ENERGY

image credit: Images from Pavegen
Niyireth Torres's picture
urban Planner Renewable energy enthusiast

I help cities, towns, and communities achieve sustainable practices by providing strategic planning using my knowledge of green building practices, renewable energy, architecture, and the retail...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Jul 23, 2021
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Cities may vary in size, population, and importance. But there is one characteristic that is common amongst all of them, and that is movement. Cities are known for their activity around the clock. People are constantly on the move, either on foot, bicycle, public transportation, or in a vehicle. Why not harness it and turn it into energy through kinetic energy?

 

Uses

 

Kinetic energy is the energy a body possesses due to being in motion. There have been multiple studies and companies interested in harvesting kinetic energy. Environmental kinetic energy or vibration energy from wind, waves, vehicle movement, machinery vibration, human motion, etc., is transformed into electrical energy that can power small and low-energy electronics. It has the potential to illuminate cities, charge electric cars, and heat homes.

 

Examples of Kinetic Energy:

 

  • Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland are experimenting with kinetic energy harvesting. The conclusion reached from their studies has been that the vibration energy from wearable devices used to charge their batteries can also be potentially used as a valuable tool for urban planning and development for transportation mode detection. They give researchers consistent and reliable information on travel behavior to inform urban design, journey planning, human activity monitoring, CO2 emissions, targeting advertising, and more.

 

  • Founded in 2009, Pavegen Systems is a company that has developed paving slabs that convert energy footsteps into small amounts of energy. The London-based company has about 42 case studies around the world; some include Dupont Circle (USA), True Digital City (Bangkok), and Chelsea Flower Show (London). Each person takes around 4,000 steps on average a day, and each step can generate up to 4 joules of off-grid electrical energy. That equates to 16,000 joules or 4.4 Watt/hour.

 

  • The idea of the Dutch Startup Energy Floors started in 2008 by opening the world’s first sustainable dance club and then introducing Smart Energy Floor in 2018. Energy Floors develops, sells, and rents innovative floor systems that generate energy. Their markets include entertainment, smart cities, and education. In the case of entertainment, each floor tile from a dance floor can generate up to 35 watts, enough to power a venue’s digital system.

 

  • The Mexican startup Kinetech Power has created high-speed hybrid flywheel kinetic energy storage solutions, in other words, a “mechanical battery” able to maintain energy thanks to high-speed spinning cycles. The applications are in areas such as mobility, renewable energy, and grid storage.

 

 

Opportunities 

 

A kinetic tile can only generate 2 watts in walking and 20 watts in dancing. It does not produce enough power to supply a household’s daily needs, and it is expensive compared to other renewable energy, but it still has value in its implementation. It cannot power a city alone, but the point of considering kinetic energy is to diversify cities grid for backup systems and to not be too dependent on one form of energy in the case of an emergency.

 

The opportunities for this technology are in the following sectors:

 

  • Smart City development: The simplest definition of a smart city is an urban area that uses multiple technologies and sensors to collect data to manage better assets, resources, and services to improve operations across the city. The appeal of developing smart cities has been to enhance urban services, reduce costs and resource consumption, and increase contact between citizens and government. One of the criticisms of smart cities has been the lack of focus on the practical side of running these types of technologies in an urban setting and the energy needed to run them. Kinetic energy is a feasible solution for that. By installing kinetic tiles in high traffic areas, whether with high foot traffic or areas with high vehicle traffic, data is collected, giving insights into how citizens interact with the city. It provides a consistent picture of how spaces are used every day—informing on the importance of specific areas and impacting the future development of a city.

 

  • Transportation hubs: An essential part of city life is public transportation and its use by its citizens. A transportation hub (or transport exchange) is where passengers are exchanged between vehicles or between transport modes. They include train stations, rapid transport stations, bus stops, tram stops, airports, and ferry slips. These places are generally busy and full of movement. Installing kinetic energy tiles creates a unique experience by incentivizing individuals to walk and engage with the built environment. Transforming these locations in more than to pass through as a stop in their destination, but places where people meet, shop, eat and drink.

 

  • Retail technologies: With consumers demanding businesses to commit to sustainable practices and the need to enhance the shopping experience of brick-and-mortar stores in this era of online shopping, installing kinetic tiles demonstrates the commitment of environmental and societal betterment with the bonus of an immersive experience. A storefront and a store floor are underutilized assets that receive hundreds of visitors a day and generate power for the store. 

 

 

  • Education: The use of kinetic tiles is an excellent tool for educating kids and adults on crucial STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) topics and making sustainability visible. Interaction with the tiles allows for more dynamic learning, supporting the educational concept of ‘learning-through-play or ‘play-based learning. 

 

  • Entertainment: One of the primary reasons people choose to live in cities has been the entertainment options available to them, from live theater to museums to galleries to gardens. Entertainment that requires a lot of energy to create these experiences. Kinetic tiles are flexible to be used in big or significant events, whether it be sports events, (eco) festivals, or product launches. Sustainability is visible in a fun way, wherein in an event, you can visualize the energy generated through an extensive battery meter. 

 

Despite being an underutilized technology and less popular form of renewable energy, its development has great promise. There is an existing market that needs policy and regulation to allow more installations and more innovation.

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