Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A New York-based startup is donating four street lamps to the city that light up using solar-kinetic energy.
In a bid to become a more sustainable community, Las Vegas is taking a gamble on pedestrian-powered electricity. The city announced in March that it has partnered with a New York-based clean-technology startup to install four streetlights that will be partly powered by kinetic electricity.
In front of the streetlights, which are expected to be installed in Las Vegas’ downtown arts district come June, are sidewalks and roads with kinetic pads embedded into the surface. Inside the pads are generators, and when pedestrians step on a tile, the pressure creates kinetic energy. That energy gets converted into electricity and stored into batteries that light up the lamps at night. Solar panels on top of the streetlights will also be a source of power.
Each generator can produce up to seven watts per footstep, says Petar Mirovic, CEO of EnGoPlanet. But according to test runs they’ve done with pedestrian-powered phone-charging stations, a footstep produces four to five watts on average. How much power pedestrians will contribute will depend on the amount of foot traffic.
“For locations where there are a lot of pedestrians, the ratio between solar and kinetic can be somewhere between 30 to 40 percent kinetic, and the rest from solar,” Mirovic tells CityLab. “In areas that aren’t busy, the kinetic energy at this moment would contribute 10 percent.” Cars would contribute power too, but Mirovic can’t say how much yet because the company and its supplier are still refining that part of the technology.
EnGoPlanet began shortly after Hurricane Sandy knocked out major parts of New York City’s power grid, and since then, Mirovic and his team have been researching solar-kinetic energy as an electricity alternative. Their first tests, in which they worked out the bugs of a solar-kinetic phone-charging station, took place in 2014 at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Las Vegas would be the first city ever put that research into practice.
Known for all its glamour and glitz and its extravagant display of lights, Sin City has been trying to reinvent itself as a model for sustainability. The city and several of its corporations have been rolling forward with conservation efforts, including plans to power more resorts and hotels with solar energy and experimenting with ways to power the government’s fleet of vehicles. By 2017, city officials aim to make Las Vegas the first city of its size to be completely powered by renewable energy. “Every city light, city park, community center, fire station, and service yard will be 100 percent covered by renewable energy,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said at a November press conference.
“I saw [Goodman’s] determination to try new technologies that harvest renewable energy, so I approached her directly and proposed that we donate four units to Las Vegas,” Mirovic says. The machines typically run between $3,500 and $4,500, he adds, depending on what features are included. The streetlights Las Vegas will be getting are equipped with sensors to monitor air quality, traffic patterns, and to capture data on solar energy. There’s also a motion sensor that will dim the lights when no one is around.
Las Vegas may be the first city to try the streetlights, but it’s not the first to use sidewalks and roadways to generate electricity. In 2009, a fast-food franchise in New Jersey experimented with harvesting energy from cars driving over speed bumps in their drive-thrus. And in the playgrounds and train stations of France and the U.K., a company called Pavegen installed recycled rubber paving tiles that also used the kinetic energy from pedestrian footsteps to power their lamps.
But Mirovic says this is just the beginning of his company’s own experimentation. If the the pilot project in Las Vegas proves successful, he’s eyeing cities like Santa Monica and New York, as well as college campuses, as his next targets. And, one day, he hopes to be able to create a version that is durable enough to harvest energy from the cars on America’s highways.