A new paving technology could transform pedestrian footfall into a major source of renewable energy for heavily frequented urban thoroughfares.

Most renewable energy installations in urban settings have relied on tried and tested methods for harnessing the power of ambient weather conditions to generate electricity in a clean, sustainable manner.

According to Chris Bertacco of London-based clean tech company Pavegen, a new paving technology they’ve developed is capable of harvesting the energy generated by human footfall as pedestrians stroll across key thoroughfares en masse.

“Essentially the technology consists of a paving slab that captures the weight of your footstep, which is the kinetic energy, and converts that energy into electricity by enabling the gearing system to spin magnets around a coil,” said Bertacco. “Each footstep is capable of generating about seven watts of electricity.”

Since its development in 2009 by British entrepreneur and inventor Laurence Kemball-Cook, the technology has been trialled in a number of locations around the globe, including a soccer field in Nigeria and favela in Rio De Janeiro. It has proven tough enough to withstand challenging, real world conditions.

“The technology has proven to be very robust, and tried and tested under millions of footsteps,” said Bertacco. “One of our first big projects was the West Ham tube during the London Olympics – we had a bridge equipped with 12 units through which 40 per cent of Olympic pedestrian traffic passed, and were able to power the lighting at night using energy generated by footsteps during the day.”

Given the increasing emphasis on public transit and walkability amongst city planners, the technology has the potential for widespread application in those more compact urban centres specifically designed to foster movement on foot.

“Obviously this technology hasn’t been designed to be used in 12 units here and 12 units there – the idea is that is in all high footfall areas that you have huge installations – perhaps even as big as 10,000 units,” said Bertacco.

“We can then directly store the energy in a localised battery storage area close to where it was harvested, and then utilize it for a lighting system. Our vision is that your walk to work will power the lights that illuminate your walk back home.

“With improvements in the efficiency of LED lights and energy storage, we see the technology playing a big part in the mix within maybe five years time.”

Bertacco sees the technology soon becoming a primary if not exclusive source of energy for the lighting of building foyers situated in heavily frequented parts of downtown Sydney.

“Pavegen will cover the whole foyer of certain buildings in Sydney earmarked for completion in around five years’ time, that will host anywhere between (6,000) to 10,000 people,” he said. “Our modelling indicates that each person will pass over the generators enough times to produce enough electricity to contribute significantly to lighting within the building foyers, if not take care of it all together.”

In addition to providing clean, renewable energy to urban lighting installations, the paving technology could also serve as a vital source of data on pedestrian movement patterns – information which could prove to be especially useful for large-scale retail districts or shopping centres seeking to run big data analytics.

“With every footstep, you get around six packets of data, and as long as you’ve got a computer and Wi-Fi receiver you can pick up all this data, and use it to run whatever kind of analytics you want,” said Bertacco. “With big data being the catchcry these days, the applications are huge, and places like shopping centres will certainly able to engage in some powerful analytics using the technology.”