Author Archives: waldropmatt

Using Renewable Energy to Reduce Poverty

There are currently around 1.3 billion people, approximately 20% of the world’s population, that lack access to electricity. Most of these people live in poverty and rely extensively on biomass and fossil fuels for heating and lighting. The United Nations has set a Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. While this is a hopeful goal, it is certainly within reach. [1]


Electricity is tied with wealth and quality of life. Impoverished countries that lack electricity access must rely heavily on subsidized fossil fuels in order to heat and light their homes. Also, the poorest countries in the world typically import most or all of their fossil fuels. According to one study done by The Worldwatch Institute, “ of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil, and 25 import all of their oil.” [2]


This heavy dependence on fossil fuels creates a strain on the economy of both the governments and the people in these countries. Governments must constantly be wary of unstable oil prices, and money that could be better spent on education or healthcare must go into these subsidies in order to provide a consistent low price for the people. Many different policy measures have been tried to help this system, but according to the IEA, “Only 8% of the subsidies to fossil-fuel consumption in 2010 reached the poorest 20% of the population.” [3] This dependency is a vicious cycle: one that could be broken by introducing renewable energy.


Renewables provide several benefits for people in poverty. For one, new jobs would be created inside the countries installing and maintaining the systems. By bringing the energy sector within countries, governments will no longer be reliant on imports and will be able to redirect funds into social programs that will better benefit the poor. Renewables such as solar panels could be easily implemented in rural areas without the need to invest in expansive transmission lines. Essentially, renewables could easily bring electricity to impoverished people in a very short amount of time. Businesses could thrive by being able to stay open longer, and children could spend more time studying rather than collecting fuel to cook with. [4]



An Indian woman’s lighted home from solar powered LEDs [5]




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Saving the Environment at 120 BPM

Recently, some tech-savvy European club owners have taken advantage of a little technological innovation to help them pay the bills. Power generating dance floors have become a new craze of ‘eco-nightclubs’ in several cities. Flashing lights, thumping bass, and dancing feet: the resources of the coolest new way to generate electricity.

Humans generate a surprising amount of energy, especially when we party. Each footstep can be harvested for about 3-5 watts of power.[1] This doesn’t seem like much, but put an energy harvesting dance floor in a room with a few hundred club-goers, and you have the potential to power over 60% of the club. [2]

Some of these dance floors are made out of piezoelectric materials. Piezoelectric materials are usually crystalline and they produce an electric current when under mechanical stress. These floors have several piezoelectric crystals staggered under the floorboard that are connected to batteries and the electric grid. When people walk on the floors, the crystals are compressed and an electrical current is produced.


Figure 1 – Piezoelectric Dance Floors [3]

Another form of electricity generating dance floor uses a fairly simple mechanical device to convert kinetic energy to electric energy. Under the flooring is a flywheel that is connected to an electric generator and a spring to return the floor to its starting position. Energy Floors, a start up company from the Netherlands, has developed the Sustainable Dance Floor, which utilizes this flywheel to generator conversion system. The flooring has a maximum deflection of 10 mm and an efficiency of 50%.  They claim that a constant 35 watt output can be produced on a floorboard under the size of 1 square meter. [4]


Figure 2 – Sustainable Dance Floor module [4]

Of course, nightclubs aren’t the only place where power generating floors might be seen in the future. Places with heavy foot traffic are typically places with heavy electrical consumption, especially in the form of lighting. Think of the constant wave of people that cross through the entrances of subways, airports, and stadiums. 30,000 or more people can pass through subways in major cities during rush hour. A London architecture firm is developing hydraulic to electric generating floors to implement in London’s South Central subway station. This station can experience 34,000 people walking through it at one time. With each step generating 3-5 watts of power, there will be enough power for the buildings’ lighting and audio equipment and then some. [1] I think that’s pretty impressive for just walking.



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