Friday, 23 August 2013

Nanogeneration: SolePower charges smartphones by harnessing walking power

While strolling between drinking establishments in Kyoto the other day, Peter suggested his idea for an electricity generator that would convert the energy each time the foot stepped down to the ground into power to charge your phone. A couple of days later he sent a link to a news story of some people doing exactly that.

SolePower charges smartphones by harnessing walking power

They're calling this nanogeneration. "Microgeneration" is used for solar panels on houses. "Micro" literally means a millionth; the typical rating of a nuclear power station is in the order of 5 giga watts--around a million times the 5 kilo watts of solar panels people put on their roofs. Nanogeneration comes a thousand times smaller, generating a few watts. This makes it sound rather insignificant in defusing the timebomb of rampant energy overuse, but we have millions of houses and billions of people so micro- and nanogeneration cannot be ignored in our charting of energy maps for the future.

I had a look at the startup site for SolePower, and by pledging a hundred bucks they'll send you a sole. Once they start manufacturing, I would hope the costs would have been much less than that, but according to the article they are not. A couple of things worry me about the design. It looks like there's only one sole, so your feet are going to be somewhat unbalanced. And most people have more than one pair of shoes. Also, it says it's waterproof, so I wonder how well it will breathe. I also wonder just how far you have to walk to charge a phone, and how regular your walking must be to avoid shortening the battery life. I know batteries can be quite fussy about the way they are charged.

There's definitely a market for something like this among outdoor types and eco gizmo junkies--both relatively wealthy groups! Someone's going to make some money, but I'm not sure how much it will solve the world's energy problems. Looking at nanogeneration in general, the amount of energy and equivalent resources used in manufacturing the generators is likely to far exceed the energy they generate over their lifetime. You would probably be better carrying rechargeable batteries with you.

A more positive way of looking at nanogeneration is in terms of reducing battery anxiety, the curse of this age of portable electronic devices.

More positive still may be raising awareness so that we realise just how much energy we are using and where it could come from.