Ambient Energy

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

 

Ambient Power Sources

The suggestion of harvesting energy, electricity, has been lingering for over a century ---ever since Nikola Tesla drew up plans to transmit electricity from large towers around the globe without using any connective infrastructure--- and still, today, it still may strike us as as a bit of a stretch. However, it's clear that as each of us become more dependent on small devices that require some source of energy(read: mobile phones, e-readers, laptops, mp3 players, digital cameras), demand for ambient energy will continue to grow. If you've ever found yourself waiting to use an outlet in an airport terminal behind a queue of three other equally desperate travelers, you'll know what I'm talking about.

There is good news for those of us dependent on our gadgets though. A number of companies seem to be working towards a practical systems solution to this old but not yet implemented idea; these companies which include Fulton Innovation, eCoupled, WiTricity and Powercast are working towards solutions that would deliver energy over relatively short distances. Eventually, we may be able to power our personal devices by simply using a dedicated microwave transmitter---our devices would pick up the microwaves with an antenna and convert the signal into electricity; such technology has already been tested on a number of occasions during which sensors were powered by energy collected through a microwave transmitter.

Of course ambient energy does present a few challenges, the principal of which is how does one charge consumers for something they get from the air? Indeed, metering ambient energy presents a bit of a dilemma. I wouldn't worry though, I'm sure inventors will come up with a way to charge us for this service.

If you're interested in learning more about these developments, have a look at this article which ran in the Economist two weeks ago.

Ambient Power Sources

The suggestion of harvesting energy, electricity, has been lingering for over a century ---ever since Nikola Tesla drew up plans to transmit electricity from large towers around the globe without using any connective infrastructure--- and still, today, it still may strike us as as a bit of a stretch. However, it's clear that as each of us become more dependent on small devices that require some source of energy(read: mobile phones, e-readers, laptops, mp3 players, digital cameras), demand for ambient energy will continue to grow. If you've ever found yourself waiting to use an outlet in an airport terminal behind a queue of three other equally desperate travelers, you'll know what I'm talking about.

There is good news for those of us dependent on our gadgets though. A number of companies seem to be working towards a practical systems solution to this old but not yet implemented idea; these companies which include Fulton Innovation, eCoupled, WiTricity and Powercast are working towards solutions that would deliver energy over relatively short distances. Eventually, we may be able to power our personal devices by simply using a dedicated microwave transmitter---our devices would pick up the microwaves with an antenna and convert the signal into electricity; such technology has already been tested on a number of occasions during which sensors were powered by energy collected through a microwave transmitter.

Of course ambient energy does present a few challenges, the principal of which is how does one charge consumers for something they get from the air? Indeed, metering ambient energy presents a bit of a dilemma. I wouldn't worry though, I'm sure inventors will come up with a way to charge us for this service.

If you're interested in learning more about these developments, have a look at this article which ran in the Economist two weeks ago.