Energy harvesting is without doubt going to be one of the power management themes of 2009. Throughout the year we are going to be bombarded with new techniques to harness energy from all kinds of unusual power sources. Some will be clever and some will be downright whacky.
But I have to say I think we may have an early contender for most innovative energy harvesting application of the year and it could also prove to be one of the whackiest concepts. The technology that is employed may not be the most sophisticated we will see this year but the idea's major attraction is that it makes use of something that tends to be universally loathed and is commonly regarded as of no 'real' use. Yes, the humble speed bump is going 'green'.
Ealing council in west London has secured funding to run a pilot scheme that will see the use of energy harvesting speed bumps to generate electricity as cars drive over them. The energy will be used to power street lights, traffic lights and road signs.
London plays host to at least 30,000 traditional speed bumps with tens of thousands more scattered throughout the UK.
The new 'green' bumps, which will capture the kinetic energy of vehicles, will cost between £20,000 and £55,000, depending on size. The bumps comprise a series of panels set in a pad virtually flush to the road. As the traffic passes over it, the panels move up and down, setting a cog in motion under the road. The cog then turns a motor, which produces mechanical energy. A steady stream of traffic passing over the bump can generate 10-36 kW of power.
The bumps can each produce between £1 and £3.60 of energy an hour for up to 16 hours a day, or between £5,840 and £21,024 a year. Energy not used immediately can be stored or fed into the national grid.
A steady flow of traffic across four of the speed bumps should generate enough power to support all the street lights, traffic lights and road signs for a mile-long stretch of street.
Estimates suggest that 10 ramps could potentially generate the same power as one wind turbine.
Councils around the UK are going to watch the pilot project with interest and at least one major supermarket chain is expected to trial a system.
So the gauntlet is thrown down. Can anyone come up with an energy harvesting solution that harnesses power from anything more useless or annoying than a speed bump?
How about a junk mail-based power generator? Or a gizmo that harvests energy from all those spam emails that clutter up your mailbox?
If you have any contenders let me know.