A British supermarket chain will cut the ribbon this week on a new kinetic energy system that draws power from vehicles running over plates in the parking lots outside the chain’s Gloucester store. The ‘people-powered’ system could soon be expanded to other Sainsbury stores across the United Kingdom.

Developed by U.K. startup Highway Energy Systems, the system uses plates that move when vehicles drive over them, creating enough energy to power a generator. That power is then fed to the store’s checkout counters. The plates are expected to generate 30kw of energy per hour.

Sainsbury’s is confident that they’ll see a return on their investment within a couple years, says a company spokesperson. "If the plates prove effective we absolutely will look to roll it out more widely," she said. "We estimate the system will recoup costs in two years, which isn't always the case with green measures."

The parking lot plates are an example of ambient energy technology, which some researchers say has the potential to replace battery power as an energy source in a wide variety of applications. Energy is drawn from ambient sources such as human activity, radio waves and transmission wires.

One similar method of storing human energy is the practice of generating electricity from human foot power on stairs and escalators, or ambient energy in high-traffic sidewalks and hallways. In Tokyo, several train stations harness the energy of commuters’ footsteps to power ticket machines. There are also gyms in Hong Kong and Seattle that are partially powered by clients pedaling spinning bikes and other exercise equipment.

British supermarket chain powers store checkouts with modified speed bumps
Sainsbury's has installed a new kinetic energy generator that will draw power from moving vehicles in the supermarket parking lots.