Much to the envy of many entrepreneurs, Kemball-Cook found that the market not only wanted his product- it was banging on his door and asking him to get a move on. Within a few months, Will I Am was dancing across Pavegen flooring and Number 10 had been in touch to request a demonstration. The company now has permanent installations in several railways stations, schools, airports and sports stadiums across the world.
Kemball-Cook came up with a footfall energy harvesting solution with the potential to provide renewable, and storable power in cities. Each tile, pounded and tested to exhaustion to withstand millions of footsteps, vomit, jumping, stiletto heels and floods, can generate 7 watts at 12 volts DC per footstep- and can be used immediately to power off-grid solutions such as streetlights (one step powers an LED lamp for several seconds) or be stored in a battery.
The Pavegen story is a shining example of innovation for sustainability. It’s the stuff of dreams- one of those devastatingly simple and elegant ideas you wish you’d come up with. If you delve deeper into Kemball-Cook’s story you find some interesting nuggets, and I believe, some food for thought for anybody trying to change the way their organisation, society or market system does things for the better:
- Kemball-Cook’s inspiration was born of repeated failure. It was during a placement at one of Europe’s biggest energy firms that he first encountered the problem of generating renewable power in dense urban environments. Tasked with rolling out urban wind and solar solutions, Kemball-Cook found challenges at every turn. Conditions in cities just aren’t wind and solar friendly. He finished his placement dejected- but returned to University determined to continue working on his quest. He was energised by the knottiness of the problem.
- Kemball-Cook approached the problem differently- instead of asking ‘how can I overcome the obstacles presented by wind and solar in cities?” he asked “what other sources of plentiful renewable energy could I harness in the built environment?” This approach led to his eureka moment.
- The company’s early history is, ahem, paved with non-conventional actions- when based in Brixton, the plucky start-up made use of a number of illegal ‘test’ installations which got them into trouble, but no doubt generated some welcome publicity as well as a few encouraging watts of power.
- Pavegen has incorporated commercially interesting features such as on-board wireless technology meaning data on the amount of energy harvested and footfall can be sent to any website- this is not just a tile that harvests energy from footsteps, it is an intelligent device with knowledge to share on how people use urban environments.
- Brilliantly, the technology also taps into our innate desire to have fun- inbuilt lights in the tiles give an instant glow when stepped on contributing to what Kemball-Cook calls ‘the gamification of energy.’ Studies have shown that tiles with these inbuilt lights use only 5% of the footfall power and attract up to 30% more pedestrians- successfully harvesting more energy.
- The company’s vision to make Pavegen products available to every community in the world and to bring the cost level with conventional flooring is both inspirational and commercially astute. For as long as Pavegen remains an entertaining but comparatively expensive niche product coveted by big brands and top-flight football stadiums, its potential remains untapped. The technology’s real power lies in its applicability to urban environments all over the world- and mass production and implementation is essential to make a real contribution to renewable energy production in tomorrow’s smart cities.
by Jenny Ekelund