“We found a community that had no light, has no way at night time for people to socialise or play sport,” Pavegen founder Laurence Kemball-Cook told RFI. “We're creating a real legacy project here to really change the way energy used and viewed in Africa,” he adds.
More than 90 tiles located under the pitch capture kinetic energy generated by the movement of the players.
“Each tile produces up to 7 watts of power per footstep,” says Kemball-Cook. “If you had 8 people continuously walking over the tiles you could produce up to 56 watts of power continuously.”
The Pavegen installation uses areas of the football field which are likely to see the greatest footfall to maximise the potential kinetic energy captured. The kinetic energy is further supplemented by an installation of solar panels and these two sources of energy together are then used to light the football ground’s floodlights.
Multinational oil company Shell supported the refurbishment of the pitch, but it has frequently faced criticism over accusations that its operations have caused significant environment damage to Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. More recently an appeal court in the Netherlands ruled that Nigerian farmers and fishermen could sue Shell for environmental pollution.
“We are changing the way Shell's perceived,” says Pavegen’s Kemball-Cook, who was a finalist for the Anglo–Dutch company’s young entrepreneur of the year award in 2011. “I think that's really important that young, disruptive technology companies like Pavegen from London can work with big brands to make real social impact projects.”
There are other concerns about Pavegen’s technology besides questions about Shell’s oil operations in Nigeria. Does the amount of energy produced by the installation justify its cost and the energy that has gone into manufacturing the tiles and transporting them to Nigeria? There is also the comparison in terms of cost with other forms of renewable energy that are more developed.
“We've been taking production up, it’s about economies of scale, it’s about using materials that are more suitable,” says Kemball-Cook. “We've reduced the price by over 500 per cent, to about 20 per cent more than normal flooring that you might find in a typical shopping mall in Africa.”
The Pavegen founder is optimistic about the viability of kinetic energy, especially if its use becomes ubiquitous with ordinary building materials.
“When we're ready to roll out in Nigeria we would of course have local assembly and local manufacture,” says the London-based entrepreneur. “You need to do a certain amount of piloting to test it, of course the energy to transport those 96 tiles there was a lot, but this is the start of us understanding how big the market is.”
Other forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, have been frequently criticised during their development. Kemball-Cook hopes that concerns raised by sceptics will be put in context as use of his invention is proven and established.
“We're not trying to make Pavegen the sole energy source to power every city in the future,” he says. “We believe it’s going to be one of the key constituents of the energy mix of the future, alongside maybe fuel cells, alongside technologies that haven't even been invented yet.”