Can our cities be turned into power stations?

Posted by Andi

As we stray further and further away from fossil fuels and move more towards a cleaner, electric-powered future, we must find any way we can of generating renewable energy. In essence, we need to get creative in how we capture energy however we can if we are going to have enough electricity to meet the high demand in modern cities. Much like how “recovery braking” works in electric vehicles to convert undeeded motion into electricity, the same can be applied to the human body or in fact anything that moves. 

Energy in every step…

A very early example of turning everyday motion into energy is located in Tokyo, Japan. Architects and scientists came together to design and install a series of tiles that actually generated a tiny amount of electricity every time they were walked on. The system, called the piezoelectric mat, works by delivering a charge between the material sheets at the moment of impact, or what some refer to as “applied mechanical stress”. This charge is then stored in a capacitor which charges as more and more walk on them. This system had been installed in the huge Shibuya Station, in which over 2.4 million people commute every day. The electricity generated not only power the outside electronic billboards but also the ticketing kiosk while sending any surplus energy to other parts of the station in need of power. Just imagine how much wasted energy we could recover if we installed these in every city across the globe. 

Winds of progress…

Another great example that could be seamlessly integrated into modern cities are Traffic Wind Turbines. Invented by an intrepid young entrepreneur from Pakistan, Sanwal Muneer, The turbine stands at a height of two and a half metres. It weighs only nine kilogrammes and is made of recyclable carbon fibre, making it easy to carry and install. The aim of this turbine is to capture the wind caused by speeding traffic and recover that energy into electricity. As the turbine spins as cars zoom past, it generates an electrical current used to charge a battery at the base of the unit. A completely charged battery can store a kilowatt of power, which is enough to power two lamps and a fan for about 40 hours. This might be used to provide electricity to rural communities in poor countries, as well as to power traffic lights and road signs in cities. 

By utilising these kinds of inventions we can take more and more “city systems” completely “off-grid”, meaning that they will not have to be connected to the main electric grid, freeing up more capacity for domestic and essential use. If we only rely on the main forms of renewable energy such as wind, solar and tidal then we are setting ourselves up to fail. If we manage to discover more ways of generating renewable energy like this and actually implement them, then we stand a chance of having a future with all the modern conveniences that we have grown accustomed to. 

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