Africa is already waking up to the possibilities that renewable energy provides, the African Union has pledged a $20 billion investment over the next decade. In East Africa, pay-as-you-go solar energy services are already proving a mainstream success. In West Africa, things are still at an early experimental stage. One such experiment is a solar-powered football pitch which also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing.
Located at a teacher’s college in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, the innovative soccer pitch was launched last year in a three-way collaboration between energy giant Shell; music star Akon, who has been championing solar energy on the continent; and Pavegen, a UK-based start-up which has a target of providing low-cost renewable energy solutions to Africa’s electricity problems.
Perhaps the most interesting technological feature of the solar-powered pitch—only the second ever launched across the world (the first was launched in Brazil in 2014)—is that it combines both kinetic and solar energy to produce electricity.
Pavegen technology makes use of pitch ‘tiles’ which generate electricity by capturing kinetic energy from footfall. The harnessed energy can power low voltage systems, like streetlights, or store electricity for later use.
One hundred of these tiles are laid underneath the playing surface of the soccer pitch, thus harnessing energy from the multiple movements of the players. The kinetic energy, combined with power generated from solar panels can power streetlights in the community for up to 24 hours.
Typically, as the amount of electricity generated is dependent on the volume of footfall, Pavegen’s technology is best suited for high foot traffic areas. As such, schools, sports centers, markets are practical targets. Laurence Kemball-Cook, founder of Pavegen, says the solar-powered pitch is a symbol of possibilities. “The project shows how the energy mix of the future will combine kinetic and solar power to improve communities.”
The focus for Kemball-Cook and Pavegen is deploying the tile technology across the continent in a bid to ease the electricity problems. To do this however, Pavegen must find a balance between large scale production and pricing as it seeks to continually bring down cost of its tile technology.