Pavegen: The Company that can't make energy out of crowds tries to make money out of them

And uses data harvesting to shoot itself in the, er, foot

Monty Python foot UHDTV

A company selling floor tiles which extract tiny, pointless amounts of energy from crowds walking across them is seeking fresh investment through the medium of crowdfunding.

The company in question is Pavegen, which we've covered before. The firm is the brainchild of Laurence Kemball-Cook, who describes himself in a press release today as an "industrial design engineer". This description, indeed, is echoed by no less a periodical than The Engineer.

In fact, however, Kemball-Cook graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in "industrial design and technology", a course which requires no knowledge of physics and very little of mathematics (a grade C GCSE will suffice). He has done nothing since then but be CEO of Pavegen.

Had he been a real engineer, of course, Mr Kemball-Cook would swiftly have realised that the total amount of energy one can generate using human bodies - far less the even tinier amount of energy one can generate by placing tiles under people's feet as they walk by - is utterly insignificant compared to the energy demands of modern civilisation.

Pavegen is naturally reticent about the amount of power its special floor tiles can generate, but a bit of poking around on the company's website reveals that in its view an average footfall yields approximately 0.002 watt-hours. The company has also stated that each person walking on one of its floors yields 7 watts over time (suggesting a slow-march pace of just under sixty steps a minute: one might hazard a guess that at a more realistic pace people generate less juice, but pass on, pass on).

Let's assume this is all true and the figures have not been massaged upwards in any way by Pavegen. Let's assume that people spend four hours a day walking about on Pavegen paving - it's a lot more than people really walk about at all, let alone on specially prepared surfaces, but what the hell.

In that case one person, during a day, will generate 28 watt-hours. For perspective, that's about 0.0002 of the energy a modern-day European expends in a day - mostly by using transport, heating, food, industry etc.

Put another way, it takes five thousand people to generate enough energy for one person by using Pavegen tiles. They are really rather pointless.

But hey, every little helps, right? You can always trust people who say that. And some big guns apparently think that Pavegen is great stuff. According to that press release:

CEO and Chairman of Canary Wharf Group, Sir George Iacobescu, said “Pavegen is one of the greatest ideas, which needs to be implemented by more companies within the public space. I think it could shape the future of renewable energy generation, with an enormous scope on helping the Canary Wharf district achieve sustainability, through lighting, HVAC, and endless applications.” [Verbatim, apparently.]

Let's suppose that most of the vast Canary Wharf office-building complex could be tiled up by Pavegen and its 105,000 workers could all be made to march about for an unrealistic four hours a day on the tiles. Why, then we'd have ... 2,940 kilowatt hours a day, just over a million kWh a year if nobody ever took any time off. That sounds like a lot! Sir George would be glad to have that to help run all the myriad lights and CHP plants and HVAC equipment of Canary Wharf.

Actually no he wouldn't. Just one new development at Canary Wharf, Heron Quays West, designed to be a modern and energy-saving building in accordance with all the new green principles, will still require a cool 40 million kWh each year (local government filing here - Word doc, page 8).

If the whole of Canary Wharf were Pavegenned up, at the outside unrealistic upper limit you'd be generating two per cent of the energy required by just one (and by no means the biggest) of the vast complex's swarming skyscraper developments - realistically a tiny fraction of a single percentage point of the requirement.

"Enormous scope on helping the Canary Wharf district achieve sustainability"?

Dear me, Sir George, you do seem to be talking an awful lot of rubbish here.

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