Cities around the world are expanding by 1.5 million people every week, this incredible growth means that more innovative solutions will be needed to resolve our renewable energy crisis for now and the future. Six years ago, one ingenious idea was invented by a Loughborough alumni student, Laurence Kemball-Cook. He suggested that footstep energy could be converted into electricity. As people step on the tiles, their weight causes electric-magnetic generators to produce off-grid electricity. In May 2016, the technology was improved so that now each tile is installed with a wireless API that transmits real-time movement data analytics. This new technology allows Pavegen to connect with a range of mobile devices and building management systems. It is hoped that Pavegen will 'power the smart cities of tomorrow.' Our content executive Emily O’Dowd paid a visit to the Pavegen headquarters in London to discuss how the business initially began and its ambitions for the future.
Entrepreneur Laurence Kemball-Cook ( @ ) started a placement year at the global energy giant E.ON where he was requested to find a way to power street lighting with solar energy and wind. However, after some research he found that the solution would be harder than first expected due to the shade and cover in the cities. Consequently, Kemball-Cook was unable to solve the issue but it encouraged him to look to other ways to create energy; energy that was just below his feet.
The beginnings of Pavegen ( @Pavegen ) were first started in the founder’s bedroom. After erecting the idea, the entrepreneur approached Loughborough University for help with funding, but they wanted 70% of the profits which was not reasonable for the future of the start-up.
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Whilst Pavegen was officially founded in 2009, there was some speculation about whether the project would be feasible. As a result, it took some time to set up the technology and convince people that this could be a reliable, renewable energy resource. Kemball-Cook said that “Investors wouldn’t invest without tiles in the ground, so I broke into a building site on the south bank of the Thames at 2am, installed the product illegally, took photos and put them on our website saying: ‘Celebrating our latest installation.’ I closed a deal with Westfield pretty soon after that.” Since then the company has grown from a team of five to 40 worldwide installing over 150 projects internationally.
The company have now produced two types of paving tiles. The first is used for industrial spaces. Rectangular in shape, they have been used in retail and transportation areas to generate renewable energy. However, the shape of the tile means that there is less space for generators to be fitted. In May 2016, Pavegen was awarded additional funding to design their next generation of tiles; fitted with three generators instead of one. Its new design also creates over 200 times more power than the original 2009 model. Now the different tiles denote two distinct areas to the business. First there is Pavegen Systems, which are laid as permanent installations with high footfall, including retail and transport. And secondly, there is Pavegen LIVE which commercialises the new generation of tiles by working alongside big brands. This aims to bring experiential campaigns to life as well as “educating people in a fun and engaging way” said Julija Jegorova, PR Manager at Pavegen Systems.
The London and Cambridge-based company has not only installed its tiles onto everyday footpaths, but has also used the technology on the Shell football pitch in Lagos, Nigeria with the help of rapper and solar entrepreneur Akon. The tiles there are used to light the football pitch and streetlamps within the favela community. Other spaces have included shopping centres, airports, offices and schools. But lighting is not the only thing it generates. The technology has been adapted so that it can monitor everyday footfall and heat mapping which can be useful data for other means.
Pavegen has grown from its humble beginnings to now cater for huge brands like Coca Cola and Siemens. It has also kitted out Heathrow terminal three and now they are in the process of installing the tiles outside the White House.
Six years on, the team are finding new ways to make renewable energy fun and part of everyday life. Pavegen are currently in the process of partnering with Tribal Planet, headed by former Apple executive Jeff Martin to introduce the "redeem and donate" scheme. The two companies are looking into innovative ways to encourage brand loyalty with the Pavegen LIVE. Additionally, the company are “working alongside other start-ups like bio-bean.”
So how bright is the future for the innovative start-up?
Jegorova stated that some of the challenges they faced at the beginning were the high start-up costs and getting people on board with the idea. “That’s why we have decided to take a different approach and gamify the renewable energy industry. In five years’ time we aim to be in all smart cities - scaling the production of our tiles up, whilst scaling the cost of our tiles down.” Kemball-Cook is dedicated to making the tiles just as affordable as normal tiles. However, the founder said: “It takes a lot of time and investment to get there. Solar took 58 years to get to the point it’s at now. I reckon we’ve done about the first 20 years with our technology. Our investors know it’s not an overnight play. We are establishing a whole industry that never existed before.”
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