People-Power Lights 2012 Olympic Walkway

Pedestrians walking on Pavegen tiles at the West Ham tube station walkway in London
Pedestrians walking on Pavegen tiles at the West Ham tube station walkway in London. Photo: Pavegen Used with permission.

When I first met Laurence Kemball-Cook he was showing me how he’d hacked a cheap AM-FM radio in his hotel room the night before. He rewired it to run off his own kinetic energy instead of the batteries it was designed for. He also shared photos of LED bike lights he’d hacked together that provided superior lighting at a fraction of the cost of commercial bike lights. It was obvious that Laurence had a thing for lights. Really, though, his sustainable clean energy power generation invention is what makes his story interesting.

At first glance, the Pavegen tile looks like a low-tech block of plastic with an LED light embedded in the center — kind of like an overstuffed version of one of those dance game tiles that teens love. But its simplicity is genius. The tile is really a sophisticated device that captures the kinetic energy from human footfall traffic and converts it into usable electric energy. When stepped on, the tile surface flexes five millimeters, converting kinetic energy to around five to seven watts  (five to seven joules) over the duration of the footstep, depending on the force exerted on the tile. That’s why Laurence needed to hack the radio — he showed the world that by jumping up and down on the tile, he could power the radio. Now consider what the tile could power if it collected energy from millions of footsteps. That’s exactly what Laurence had in mind.

Pavegen Tile
Photo: Pavegen Used with permission.
A Pavegen tile installation is now a central feature at West Ham tube station, a major London transport site feeding a million visitors over the next few weeks for the 2012 Olympic games. The kinetic energy from people’s footsteps will be stored as electricity and used to power 12 LED floodlights — it is the first installation of its kind for transport infrastructure.

According to Pavegen’s press kit, 12 energy harvesting floor tiles along a walkway to the Olympic Park will generate around 72 million joules of energy – enough to power a small electric car for 397 laps around the Olympic athletics track or charge 10,000 mobile phones for an hour. The energy-capturing installation will light the walkway around the clock, storing surplus energy in batteries.

But Pavegen tiles do more than just power pretty lights. The units each contain wireless transmitters that send information via the web. Using computers or smart phones, pedestrians can monitor how much renewable energy is being generated.

David Stubbs, Head of Sustainability at the London Organizing Committee (LOCOG) sums up the importance of Pavegen tiles at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games: “We want people coming to the Games to be able to do their bit for the environment and this is a great example where, literally in a few steps, people can actively contribute towards making these truly sustainable Games.”

So, if you’re going to the Olympic Games in London this summer, make sure to use the West Ham tube station walkway to the Olympic Greenway and put your footsteps to work.