• 12.05.11

Taking Steps Toward More Energy: Sidewalks That Generate Power

PaveGen, a British company that makes sidewalk tiles that create small amounts of electricity, is ramping up to take advantage of the foot traffic during the Olympics. Will pedestrian power pay off?

Generating small amounts of electricity from people’s footsteps isn’t going to solve the energy crisis, or convince hardened critics about the merits of renewable energy. But it would make everyone complicit in creating clean energy, whether they were aware of it or not. Everyone takes at least a few steps outside a day.


That’s what PaveGen, a young U.K. startup, is banking on. Its paving tiles convert that kinetic energy to power street lighting, advertising, and other low-energy urban furniture. And it seems to doing these things well enough so far, at least in early trials. The tiles, which are made of recycled rubber, stainless steel, and glass, depress 5 millimeters when people step on them. The resulting energy sets off an LED and nearby lighting, or is stored in a battery unit for later use.

The company says installing five units in a heavy-footfall area, with say 50,000 steps a day, would be enough to power lighting around a bus stop. The most obvious application would be in a subway concourse, which has more or less guaranteed foot traffic at all times of day.

It is hard to fully judge the viability of the idea, as PaveGen will not say how the units work, or their cost. It argues that it is unfair to price out a technology before its fully commercialized. But PaveGen has installed 20 tiles at Westfield Stratford City mall, near the site of next year’s Summer Olympics, and taken part in other trials. It has also picked up several awards, helping to raise its profile and attract investment. And people are always walking on sidewalks. If they can get enough tiles in place, the energy generated could be prodigious.

Whether or not the tiles take off, they’re a welcome addition to otherwise monotonous sidewalks. And a welcome addition to the otherwise staid act of walking. Now even a stroll is creating energy.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.