Power of the People: Harnessing pedestrian energy in Caceres

For every step you take -- walking along the sidewalk, taking the stairs, or going for a run to get some exercise -- your body is using and transferring energy. Most of the time, this energy ends with us. You take a step forward, and the energy of that motion is absorbed by the pavement, the soil, or whatever surface you may be walking on.When you consider how many steps we each take in our daily lives of commuting, working, recreating, and running errands, there is a huge amount of energy from our motions that is spent every day and goes unharnessed. Multiply the kinetic energy produced by a single person by a city's total population, and you have a considerable energy source that has not yet been tapped. The idea of harnessing kinetic energy produced from people's movements is one that has caught the attention of city officials in Caceres, Spain. One of the 21 member cities participating in the 2012 Living Labs Global Awards, Caceres envisions a future in which the ambient energy produced by the movement of people can be harnessed and used to help power our cities. Sound like science fiction? In fact, a number of companies are on the cutting edge of energy harvesting technologies and are leading the way in making the idea of kinetic energy capture a reality.

In this year's awards, Caceres has selected five showcases as nominees to present their ideas for capturing energy from sports facilities. All five present a similar type of technology as the backbone of their proposed projects -- smart floors. These surfaces are able to absorb and convert the energy from foot traffic into electrical energy that can be used to power any number of city services and systems. Smart floors can also be used to convert other types of wasted energy to electricity, such as the vibrations produced by vehicular traffic on roads.

Although the electrical energy produced from pedestrian power and transport vibrations could not power a city all on its own, it provides one more type of clean, sustainable energy that cities can add into their energy portfolios. And it's reliable -- as long as people keep moving, kinetic energy will continue to be a potential energy source. Caceres is currently focusing its challenge on the power potential of sports facilities in particular, but there are seemingly endless possibilities for how smart floor technologies could be applied in our cities. From playgrounds to roads to sidewalks to staircases, the places where people move and live could soon provide their own energy source.

~ Allison Bullock