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French town to power street lights via energy-absorbing sidewalk

Posting in Aerospace

The French city of Toulouse plans to install energy-absorbing sidewalk panels to power street lights.

The French city of Toulouse is known for many things -- its iconic rose-colored brick buildings and the place aerospace giant Airbus calls home, for example -- but a new venture takes the sustainable cake.

Inspired by a nightclub in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the city is investigating the installation of energy-absorbing sidewalk panels that would harvest the energy of passerby to power power street lights.

Appropriately, the panels are made by a Dutch company called Sustainable Dance Club. They generate mechanical energy by compressing 0.4 inches each time they are stepped on; a motor converts that energy to electrical power.

The company says a person dancing on one of the tiles can generate from 2 to 20 watts, depending on their weight.

Toulouse plans to install the panels in the city center for two weeks' worth of testing.

Can these panels generate enough power to make the pilot program worth it? According to The Register, well, no:

Toulouse has a population of 435,000 people and boasts a trifle over 1,100km of streets and avenues. Let's assume that the whole place is kitted up with electro-pavements and that every single resident spends a full hour pounding them without stopping every day - a bit high really, but we want to be best-case here.

The people of Toulouse will thus produce 2175 kilowatt-hours every day. A representative 250 watt sodium streetlight consumes around 5 kWh daily on average, meaning that the entire city would be able to illuminate 435 such lights. Even if more energy-efficient LED units were used, you'd still only be able to power one for each 0.5km of street. In effect the city would be plunged into darkness.

All of this, too, assumes some kind of energy storage system able to take the power generated at peak times such as rush hour and use it in the lamps when they are actually on, for instance the middle of the night when nobody is walking around. Such a system would cost a further enormous sum on top of the already unaffordable electro-pavements. Worse, it would waste a substantial proportion of the energy.

Make no mistake: a smart sidewalk is a great idea. But like many technologies, this one has a way to go before it's commercially viable.

[via The Guardian]

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure