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French city in pedestrian-powered streetlight plan

Plus rapide, Gaston! Je peux voir baise-toute

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

French city authorities, according to reports, are considering plans to power streetlights using energy provided by pedestrians treading on special power-generating pavements.

The Guardian reports that Toulouse, "France's technological and aeronautical hub", is carrying out trials of the so-called "pavement power" technology. A trial section of pavement "can produce between 50 and 60 watts of electricity to power a nearby street lamp", according to the paper.

"It is a world first," deputy mayor Alexandre Marciel tells the Graun. "It is an idea which has existed for a long time in people's minds but which has never actually been made a reality."

It certainly has existed in people's minds for a while: MIT architecture students, for instance, advanced a similar scheme for "crowd farms" in railway stations which would be used to power trains a few years ago. That would have worked, sort of, but with the trifling snag that there would need to be dozens of unfortunates jumping up and down heroically in the crowd farms for every passenger riding in a train.

But perhaps the Toulouse pavement-power scheme is more realistic?

The Guarn's 50-60 watt figure is meaningless, as we have no idea how much pavement was involved or how many people. But perhaps we can do better.

The electric pavement gear comes from Dutch company Sustainable Dance Club, famous for providing illuminated dancefloors powered by the exertions of drug-addled clubbers jittering furiously along to the latest young-persons' rhythm combo sounds.

According to SDC, their kit can produce "5-20 Watts, depending on weight and activity level" per person in normal dance-club use. The average pedestrian is probably going to put out a good bit less, as he or she needs to get from A to B rather than remaining basically stationary and will wish to graft a good bit less hard than the typical denizen of Rotterdam's "Club Watt", but let's be kind and say 5 watts.

Toulouse has a population of 435,000 people and boasts a trifle over 1,100km of streets and avenues. Let's assume that the whole place is kitted up with electro-pavements and that every single resident spends a full hour pounding them without stopping every day - a bit high really, but we want to be best-case here.

The people of Toulouse will thus produce 2175 kilowatt-hours every day. A representative 250 watt sodium streetlight consumes around 5 kWh daily on average, meaning that the entire city would be able to illuminate 435 such lights. Even if more energy-efficient LED units were used, you'd still only be able to power one for each 0.5km of street. In effect the city would be plunged into darkness.

All of this, too, assumes some kind of energy storage system able to take the power generated at peak times such as rush hour and use it in the lamps when they are actually on, for instance the middle of the night when nobody is walking around. Such a system would cost a further enormous sum on top of the already unaffordable electro-pavements. Worse, it would waste a substantial proportion of the energy.

All in all, you have to say that "pavement power" is a frankly cretinous idea. There are good reasons why the human race moved away from muscle power in the first place: most obviously that it's incredibly feeble. The amount of power that people can produce using their bodies will never be significant compared to the demands of modern civilisation, and cannot possibly be worth the costs of collecting it.

But deputy mayor Marciel doesn't agree, according to the Guardian:

Marciel admitted there was a way to go before the dream of pavement-powered street lighting could become a reality. The relatively high cost of the modules remained a deterrent, he said, but should not put off authorities in cities where the political will was strong.

Dear oh dear. ®

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