To keep just a fraction of its neon humming and artificial stars glowing through the energy generated by human footsteps, Las Vegas would require a constant, 24/7 stampede of blundering pedestrians surpassing the number of background extras hired for the “Ten Commandments” in size.
Never going to happen.
Still, foot traffic-heavy Las Vegas is an ideal spot for more modest lighting installations that harness kinetic energy produced by passing pedestrians with a sizable assist from another thing that Sin City has in spades: abundant sunshine.
Now illuminating Boulder Plaza in downtown Vegas are a quartet of solar-kinetic LED streetlights — the "world’s first smart streetlights powered by footsteps" as they're being heralded. Topped with photovoltaic “crests,” the four pole-based mini-power plants capture and store energy gleaned from the sun during the daytime hours while also tapping into the gratis energy harnessed and stored by micro-generators located beneath a series of hard-to-miss kinetic pads integrated into the surrounding sidewalk. Once a person steps onto one of the pads, a small amount of kinetic energy is produced, converted into electricity and stored in a battery.
As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, a single footstep atop the sidewalk tiles can generate 4 to 8 watts of energy, an amount that largely depends on the amount of pressure applied with each individual footstep.
Developed by New York-based clean tech startup EnGoPlanet, the streetlights operate entirely off-grid with the two aforementioned types of clean energy, kinetic and solar, providing all of the lamps’ power needs. Furthermore, both forms of energy are highly interdependent: on those rare overcast days in the Mojave Desert, an extra assist from pedestrians — particularly heavy-footed pedestrians with bellies filled with 99-cent shrimp cocktails — is much needed. And on days when foot traffic through Boulder Plaza is minimal, that sunshine better be shining at its brightest.
Boulder Plaza, a public sculpture garden functioning largely as an al fresco event space, and the surrounding Las Vegas Arts District are located at a remove from the dazed throngs of the Las Vegas Strip — Celine, Britney and the dancing fountains of the Bellagio are roughly five miles away to the south. A few nearby destinations are the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the Stained Glass Wedding Chapel and a wholesale feather distributor. (To be fair, there's also a slew of galleries, hip eateries and nonprofit arts organizations in the area.) That said, there's ample foot traffic through the plaza, just not the type of tourism-driven foot traffic associated with Sin City.
Visitors opting to detour off the Strip and Fremont Street for a visit the Arts District are encouraged to linger and literally recharge at Boulder Plaza. In addition to providing illumination once the sun sinks below the desert horizon, the multitasking smart streetlights double as Wi-Fi hotspots and have built-in USB charging stations. What’s more, they also boast video surveillance capabilities and serve as air quality testing stations that are remotely monitored by city employees.
Nothing that the solar-kinetic streetlights could prove to be “a good substitution or alternative to traditional streetlights,” EnGoPlanet CEO Petar Mirovic explains to the Review-Journal that the concept for multitasking off-grid streetlights was largely inspired by the widespread power outrages that gripped the East Coast following Superstorm Sandy. “We couldn’t charge our phones, we couldn’t do anything — we were really affected by that,” he says. “We talked about how clean energy is all around us, but cities don’t have the infrastructure to harvest and store the energy.”
As noted in a press statement issued by EnGoPlanet, the 300 million “traditional” streetlights spread out across the world cost over $40 billion per year in energy costs to operate while producing 100 million tons of carbon dioxide.
"Clean and free energy is all around us,” says Mirovic. “Urban cities have to build the smart infrastructures of tomorrow that will be able to harvest all that energy. This project is small, but a very important step in that direction."
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mirovic notes that while other partnering cities were considered for the pilot installation, Vegas was ultimately chosen due to its dearth of overcast days.