Let’s say you could select a single spot to harness the kinetic energy generated by human movement and convert that energy into a renewable power source. Where would it be?
The Crossroads of the World, Times Square?
A Six Flags theme park?
A Best Buy store the morning after Thanksgiving?
While these high-traffic locales are no doubt capable of producing some serious juice via everyday human activity, a renewable energy project in Lagos, Nigeria, has taken an incredibly smart — and sporty — approach to people-generated power through the reinvention of the humble soccer pitch.
The people-powered soccer pitch in question, located at the Federal College of Education in Akoka, is the result of two rather unlikely entities, Anglo-Dutch oil behemoth Shell and frequently shirtless “Smack That” rapper Akon, coming together for a single good cause. Grammy-nominated Akon, a St. Louis-born Senegalese-American hip-hop star-turned-solar entrepreneur, has dedicated much of his recent energy to Akon Lighting Africa, an organization dedicated to spearheading various electricity-providing clean energy projects across Africa.
For the project, Akon and Shell collaborated with Pavegen, a lauded British clean tech startup and self-described “market leader in the footfall energy harvesting sector" headed by Laurence Kemball-Cook.
Over the past several years, Pavegen has been hard at work testing and showcasing its energy-harvesting flooring/paving tiles in a variety of high-foot traffic spots including Harrods department store and Heathrow Airport in London, Webster University in Missouri and a busting train station in Saint Omer, France, where the footsteps of commuters help to both power LED bench lighting and USB charging stations.
The company has also demonstrated its rather hush-hush technology at numerous festivals, expos and even marathons.
In 2014, Pavegen collaborated with Shell and Brazilian soccer legend Pelé on its largest ever installation: the redevelopment of a down-and-out community athletic field in Morro da Mineira, a notorious hillside favela of Rio de Janeiro, and transform it into the world’s first player-powered soccer pitch.
While the recently unveiled Lagos project isn’t the first of its kind in the world nor the largest, it’s a first for Africa, a continent that’s seen a flurry of sustainable energy projects that aim to help bring light to communities where it’s needed most.
Illuminated after sunset by floodlights powered by both a solar array and footfall energy-harvesting panels, this people-powered soccer pitch in Lagos, Nigeria, is the first of its kind in Africa. (Photo: Pavegen)
With 100 energy-harnessing tiles hidden away under the artificial turf (the Rio installation, by comparison, has 200), the soccer pitch at the Federal College of Education helps to power floodlights that illuminate the grounds at night along with supplementary help from an on-site solar array. Normally, the area is plunged into darkness after the sun sets while the college itself is powered by polluting diesel generators. The very hustle of the players that use the field has, in effect, rendered the pitch a safer and more accessible place for all. And there's not doubt the pitch saw and will continue to see a ton of action considering Nigeria's great love of football.
Pavegen claims that each individual tile is capable of generating 7 watts of power each time it is stepped on. Combined with the solar array, the battery-based system can power the pitch's floodlights for up to 24 hours. That said, Pavegen has been the subject of some scrutiny with regard to the overall effectiveness of converting footfall energy into power.
We have more than 10,000 student teachers, who will benefit from this innovative solution to light our football pitch. They will be the next generation of teachers across Nigeria and can they use their first-hand experience of this pitch to inspire their pupils that they too can work towards developing bright energy ideas that could make a real difference to their community, Nigeria or even the world. Not only our students but the community that surrounds us will all get to benefit from this pitch for years to come.
As for Akon, he notes that “new, reliable and smarter energy solutions play a major role in driving human progress in Africa. Projects like this innovative football pitch draw attention to the major opportunity that Nigeria as well as the whole of Africa have if we look to better harness new technologies and the continent’s abundant renewable energy resources.”
Okay, so these aren't exactly words you'd expect to hear from a noted fan-tosser and Young Jeezy collaborator whose previous non-musical endeavors include launching a clothing line called Konvict. But Akon, through his work with the organization that he co-founded in 2014, has been up to a whole lot of humanitarian good as of late. Who would have thought the vocalist on the 2009 hit "Sexy B****" would go on to help bring 100,000 solar street lamps to rural African communities?
The pitch itself will play a starring role in an upcoming music video for the song “Tell Me We’re Okay” by Akon and DJ Hardwork. In the meantime, here’s Akon with Kemball-Cook, speaking to the positive impact that innovative ideas can have on developing communities where something that most of us take for granted, light, is all too scarce.