Monday, June 27, 2016

Marching to a Renewable Future

By David Heberling, Policy Intern

Recently, a firestorm of enthusiasm for solar roadways swept across social media. I’m sure many have seen the videos and fundraising campaigns to bring this technology to reality. Luckily, this technology, and other similar seemingly ahead-of-their-time innovations, may actually be taking off. Missouri is hoping to install a length of solar roadway by the end of the year. While solar power has become a staple of the renewable portfolio, a large innovation in kinetic energy is poised to launch a similarly bold and futuristic technology that might actually experience real world implementation on a large scale in the not-too-distant future.

Technology Developing in Leaps and Bounds

You may already be familiar with some kinetic generation devices. Common examples of this type of technology include hand crank radios and flashlights that are commonly included in disaster survival kits. Modern gym equipment can also have some of this kinetic capture technology embedded into the machines. Inventors have taken a simple concept that has been used for years and transformed it into systems that have real potential to generate electricity on a large scale.

As we continue to increase the amount of technology we use in our day-to-day lives, electricity demand will continue to grow. Indeed, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. electricity consumption could grow by 48% by 2040. Engineers are constantly looking for innovative new ways to generate electricity from renewable sources. One of the most promising sources of renewable energy may be right under our feet (and not in a liquid dinosaur kind of way).

British and Dutch engineers have invented a kinetic dance floor that uses the energy expelled by disco dancers to help generate electricity. The benefits of human-generated electricity are two-fold. On the one hand, you are able to recoup energy from a previously un-harvested source. On the other hand, it may help to encourage an ever more complacent populace to become more physically active. While the current technology is making strides to become more competitive and efficient, these researchers have expanded what may at first seem like a kitsch idea into something that may feasibly work on a large scale. 

Recently, this kinetic floor tile technology was installed in a Nigerian soccer stadium to help power the stadium’s lights. Domestically, a high school in Indiana became the first public building to deploy the technology. The potential use for this technology is astounding. Once the cost of the panels comes down and the efficiency of this technology increases, these panels, like the solar roadways projects, could help us turn everyday surfaces into active sources of energy production.

The British startup Pavegen has substantially increased the amount of electricity that the floor panels can generate. Their latest design, the V3, generates 200 times more electricity than their initial panel. They’re also pioneering new ways to integrate the technology into mobile apps and other means of motivating the general populace to get up and walk around more.

It is exciting to see so many engineers developing new, innovative ways to harness energy and motivate physical activity.  These types of inventions may seem lifted from the pages of a sci-fi future, but as inventors deploy more and more experimental technologies, these futuristic concepts may soon become common sources of energy. In a world that can sometimes seem so dark, it is always good to have another reason to keep on dancing—especially if it keeps the lights on.

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