back to article 'Pavement power' - The bad idea that never seems to die

We've said it before, but because “walk on this pavement for renewable energy” remains a recurrent news story, it's worth saying again. You can't get a useful amount of energy that way: it's a gimmick. The latest iteration comes from Las Vegas, which according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal is installing street lights from …

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To be fair, wind and solar are gimmicks too.

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Trollface

Be quiet Mr.Trump!

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Facepalm

>> To be fair, wind and solar are gimmicks too.

It's not possible to run an economy based solely on them, yes. But that's a far cry from it not being possible to run anything useful based on them.

So, no; you're not being fair.

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I would say he was absolutely fair for two reasons.

1) as you said they are incapable of supplying base load.

2) they all require government subsidies to even look as if they are economically viable.

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Have you ever looked in to how much govt subsidy the fossil fuel energy sector gets?

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Yes. They get none. Stop reading the Graun.

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They get plenty.

Here, enjoy: http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2014/07/OCI_US_FF_Subsidies_Final_Screen.pdf

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Boffin

>> they all require government subsidies to even look as if they are economically viable.

I was not talking theory, you know.

We have a PV system running, at work. No subsidies whatsoever. It cut down the electricity bill by about 90%, so accounting are purring like kittens. And it's very economically viable, considering that a system with a projected lifespan of 25 years should have paid for itself in 3, even taking into account expected drops in efficiency.

I guess it all depends on who is trying to achieve what and where they're doing it.

That said, it is important to be sane and conservative about things and not promise undeliverable miracles to people who do not know, nor care about the details.

It's clear that a sustainable overall solution would have to be based primarily on nuclear and augmented, where possible, with renewables as the specific environment where the deployment is taking place allows -- I live in a place that's much sunnier than the UK and most of the EU, for example; hence, PV works great, here. So selling a dream of a system that's primarily based on renewable energy while simultaneously feeding the unreasonable fear of nuclear is, IMO, almost criminal.

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Mushroom

"It's clear that a sustainable overall solution would have to be based primarily on nuclear"

I keep telling people that the *only* solution is to take off and nuke the entire planet from space, but do they listen to me ? "Take your meds", they say. "Stop struggling or I'll call the doctor." Pfffft.

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Anonymous Coward

Well, fair and fair.

Green power is at the moment generating 11.4% of our (the UK's) electricity, which sounds great, Until you look closely.

We have 8GW of wind generating capacity installed in the UK. It's has never, ever actually generated that amount of power. It's currently generating 2.88GW, which is a weekly high. This out of a total demand of 42.36GW. The next largest "green" supply of power is Biomass, which is currently generating 2GW minus a fraction of a decimal point. Biomass is Drax 2 & Ironbridge 1 & 2 which are coal plants converted to burn wood. These then gain access to "green" subsidies payments, despite being the single largest CO2 sources in Europe. Green subsidies literally go to chop down trees to burn.

Green energy excluding EVIL (CO2 free) nuclear = 4.8GW. (Wind, 2.8GW, Biomass/Timber burning releasing tons of CO2, 2GW.)

Nuclear (not Green energy because OMG CHERNOBYL!!! despite no CO2 emissions) = 8.4GW, (or 10.4GW, if we count the 2GW of French imports which come from their nuclear program.)

Gas (the non green CO2 belching "backup" to wind power) = 20.3GW.

* All figures correct at time of writing, and viewable live at "gridwatch.templar.co.uk"

So, the green drive to reduce emissions has reduced emissions by under 5% (unless we are going to argue burning trees is green/zero emissions) and resulted in green taxes of 15%, plus the additional costs from the national grid to upgrade their systems to deal with unpredictable surges and shortfalls from wind, plus additional costs from feed in payments to the rich who can afford their own houses and solar panels to go on the roofs.

Since there is not and is unlikely to ever be enough power fed in from home solar panels to shut down a gas plant, home feed in tariffs simply means that the electricity company has to pay for electricity twice. When somebody with the solar panels on their roof gets paid and their bills go down, what then happens to everybody elses bills? Yeah, they go up to compensate.

Current green policy literally taxes the poor to pay the rich, while delivering virtually no additional usable electricity we didn't have before these policies came along, and is actively paying to chop down trees to burn. These anti progressive and anti environmental policies are morally, logically and environmentally unjustifiable.

That said, the typical way of defending the indefensible is to label anybody who points out the hypocrisy as being a thought criminal (sorry, flat earther, ignorant or something similar) which admittedly has worked in a fashion, but now that middle ground opposition is in hiding or radicalised the opposition largely is from Trump et al who really, really don't care what you call them.

Contrary comments welcome. If you don't have any coherent argument against this yet want to vent your rage then consider a downvote. ;)

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I live in a place that's much sunnier than the UK and most of the EU

And that's dandy. In parts of the world where sunshine is plentiful and reliable, then PV's a great idea. Even more so when peak solar output is closely correlated with peak demand. Throw in some battery storage and you can really be cooking on sun.

But in the context of the UK energy system that doesn't help. Our peak demand is the coldest winter days after dark. During winter capacity factor on solar is about 5% (less on cloudy days or if there's snow). So for the UK government to subsidise PV at the ridiculous rates that it did in recent years was madness. All that it achieved was to take demand away from thermal plant, without obviating the need for the thermal plant for those cold. windless winter days and nights. As a consequence the utilisation of thermal plant fell, efficiency fell as well (so offsetting a fair bit of the claimed benefits of the PV) and government had to introduce subsidies to keep thermal plant available.

UK energy policy has left nothing to chance in ensuring that the end user pays the highest possible price for energy. Networks have been required to spend billions on connecting new "renewable" plant with a guaranteed return, wind turbines have been subsidised and mandated, solar PV has been heavily subsidised, new nuclear is getting a big fat subsidy, new interconnectors will be subsidised by regulated returns, biomass plants have had big fat subsidies under various schemes, thermal plant, nuclear and interconnectors all get "capacity market" payments. To make up for a broken and disfunctional welfare system, government throw a £1.5bn at Winter Fuel Bribes for pensioners, energy companies are required to throw in about £500m to a similar scheme (Warm Homes Discount), and then a further £700m to energy efficiency measures for customers. And even that list is only the big ticket stuff - below that there's vast amounts of subsidies and transfers on all manner of other rubbish.

It is a huge, huge mess.

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Don't forget that the 6 million+ tonnes of soil nutrient-depleting chomped up trees (2014 figures) need to be shipped over from the US to feed Drax alone. Assuming a load of 45,000 tonnes per shipment, that's 133 transatlantic trips, burning ~200,000 gallons of heavy oil each way: 1675342 tonnes of oil burned to feed one power station in a year. Of course, coal ships will burn the same fuel, but as you'd need to ferry almost double the quantity of woodchip to achieve the same energy output as coal, it seems likely that transport of the stuff alone negates any benefits of burning it in terms of emissions - not just the widely hyped gaseous plant fertilizer, but the nasty particulate stuff that clogs up your lungs.

Obviously the people running this scheme will know perfectly well how wasteful and environmentally damaging it is. So what's the point in doing it? Renewable subsidies - eye watering sums of money for the great and the good and all their pals, all doing their bit to save the world, of course..

https://jenny4mp.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/greenwashing-drax-plenty-of-public-money-for-corporate-welfare/

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Holmes

Which goes to show..

That there's no situation that's so bad on its own that government intervention can't make it much worse.

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"It's not possible to run an economy based solely on them, yes. "

And it's a bloody expensive distraction from investing in the technologies which can.

If all the money invested in solar/wind R&D went into LFTR, we'd have working commercial examples by now. As it is, if/when LFTR rolls out, those windmills and PVs will be expensive nuisances (unlike conventional nukes LFTR can load follow, but it's a _lot_ cheaper per Wh than conventional nukes, let alone solar or wind, as the cleanup costs are far lower than conventional nukes)

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"We have a PV system running, at work. No subsidies whatsoever. It cut down the electricity bill by about 90%, so accounting are purring like kittens. And it's very economically viable, considering that a system with a projected lifespan of 25 years should have paid for itself in 3, even taking into account expected drops in efficiency."

How big was the grant (subsidy) you got to install it?

What value is the feedin tarriff you're getting?

I've seen feedin rates up to 45p/kWh being bandied about. As my electricity costs 14p/kWh, it's clear that your feedin is being paid for by consumers.

And if you honestly expect to get 25 years out of a solar PV installation I have a couple of bridges I'd like to sell you. It'll be down to 50% capacity in 8-9 and half that again by year 16, if the inverters haven't blown by then or some other silicon failure knocked it out.

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"It's clear that a sustainable overall solution would have to be based primarily on nuclear and augmented, where possible, with renewables as the specific environment where the deployment is taking place allows"

LFTRs and other molten salt nukes can load follow and are _much_ cheaper than renewables once deployed. They can provide "peaking capacity" when renewables drop out, but that's also knowin as load following and because they're way cheaper than wind/solar, renewables are an expensive pain in the ass that will rapidly be kicked off the grid.

Conventional nukes can't load follow, so you need fast "peaking capacity" - inefficient open cycle generation - to fill the gaps when solar or wind drop out. Renewables suppliers get preferential power rates and are not required to pay for the upkeep or operation of these backup systems, or the grid overlays required to handle large unpredictable power flows that weren't in the original designs.

Either way, greenwashs system will end up as monuments to folly. They can't provide anywhere near close to enough electricity to allow us to replace carbon emissions (demand will rise by a factor of 6-8 over current baseload. Renewables - at best - could just match current baseload.)

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Biomass/Timber burning releasing tons of CO2, 2GW

Much more tons of CO2 than you realise.

Drax is fed by clearfelling old-growth north american forests (using oil) and the clearcut land releases a shitload of CO2. It's then chipped (using oil) and transported to the power station (using oil).

The process uses more oil than would be consumed by directly generating electricity with the stuff.

The environmental effects of the clearfelling are a disaster all by themselves.

Can you say Greenwash?

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"In parts of the world where sunshine is plentiful and reliable, then PV's a great idea. "

In parts of the world where sunshine is plentiful and reliable, solar hot water systems are a much better idea. You can use them to drive Solarfrost cycle cooling systems (modified low-temperature ammonia pumps) and as it gets hotter you get more cooling.

It can even drive freezing systems (solarfrost will go to -30C for 60C input) and stirling motors for water pumping or circulating fans.

Low tech, low maintenance, more efficient overall than converting to electricity and then driving AC with it - the PV systems can be downsized enough to provide for lighting/entertainment systems.

Suitable building desig, solar chimneys and awnings are also a lot better than trying to bruteforce the cooling using AC.

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In parts of the world where sunshine is plentiful and reliable, solar hot water systems are a much better idea. You can use them to drive Solarfrost cycle cooling systems (modified low-temperature ammonia pumps) and as it gets hotter you get more cooling.

Maybe, but I'm sceptical that these can be made economic. Technologically, little or no problem that can't be overcome. But I work for an energy company with world class expertise in power-to-gas, methanation, CAES, pumped storage, district heating, district cooling, battery storage, heat storage, power-to-heat on district heating systems, solar thermal assisted district heat etc. And the one thing we've learned is that multi-stage systems are resolvable technology problems, and usually unresolvable economic problems.

Throw more subsidies and we'll build anything, but half the problem is that these are trying to address the system problems of ineffectual renewables. At the core of that is idiot politicians failure to understand that for an energy system to work, capacity must be despatchable - which should have meant renewables having to buy the capacity to back up any down time ideally against an average system load profile.

However, we are where we are. And in the case of UK or European energy policies, our location on the map is some place called "Screwed".

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Anonymous Coward

I recall a story on here several years ago where the current head of greenpeace said that even if humanity finally cracks safe usable nuclear fusion, then we can't use it because mumble mumble nuclear!

So presumably, if all forms of power generation from a fusion reaction are a no go, then we have to rip down all the solar panels.

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"Nuclear (not Green energy because OMG CHERNOBYL!!! despite no CO2 emissions) = 8.4GW, (or 10.4GW, if we count the 2GW of French imports which come from their nuclear program.)"

FWIW, the other day the French issued a warning that due to some nuclear being offline for various reasons, they have to import power. Some of that is coming from the UK. The UK barely has the capacity to cover a cold day. And the French don't currently have any spare.

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Mumble Mumble Nuclear

"if all forms of power generation from a fusion reaction are a no go, then we have to rip down all the solar panels."

And outlaw photosynthesis. Hell, lets just build that wall a little higher and block the sun.

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Anonymous Coward

Don't worry, the Chinese are hoping to have LFTR commercialized by 2040. At least it'll be ready before fusion.

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And it's very economically viable, considering that a system with a projected lifespan of 25 years should have paid for itself in 3, even taking into account expected drops in efficiency.
I'd love to see the numbers. When the Australian government were heavily subsidising solar PV I came up with 18 years to pay for the investment. Australian consumer magazine Choice came up with 16 years, but didn't specify the exact location. Where I live there's lots of sunshine hours. Only Perth in Western Australia have more. Likely Choice were basing their figures on Melbourne, or Sydney.

The seller's estimated cost savings required the array to supply 140% of its rated output. They never responded to my questions. The estimated costings were based on excess energy being paid for at better than retail price per KW/hr. Feed-in tariff is now at wholesale electricity prices so I wouldn't be surprised if the time to repay the investment now exceeds the anticipated life of the installation.

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This is shocking stuff. How is all this not taken into consideration when the CO2 output of this method is calculated? Even on paper (recycled, don't you worry!) it sounds stupid. Cut down trees from across an ocean?! Madness. That's literally one of the most moronic things I've heard in a long time. Not being a native Brit I just had a nice little read of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drax_power_station and boy the stats are troubling.

“The environmental effects of coal burning are well documented. Coal is considered to be "easily the most carbon-intensive and polluting form of energy generation available".[103] In 2007 the station produced 22,160,000 tonnes of CO2, making it the largest single source of CO2 in the UK.[47][104] Between 2000 and 2007, there has been a net increase in carbon dioxide CO2 of over 3,000,000 tonnes.[47] The station also has the highest estimated emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the European Union.[105]”

“Drax's annual report for 2013 reported that Drax's annual emissions were at 20,612,000 tonnes of CO2. This was a slight decrease from 2007 levels due to the burning of biomass.[107] Drax still remains the UK's largest single source of emissions.[citation needed][clarification needed]”

Both coal and biomass are largely imported! Close this thing down and build a nuke plant. If people were *really* that concerned about the environment this thing could never continue operating.

Currently 13 nuke plants are being built in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_China#Nuclear_power_plants_under_construction

I know China is a lot bigger energy consumption-wise, ranking 1st in the world versus 12th for the UK but still: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2233rank.html

I'm no bleeding heart environmentalist and I get that the fuel of a power plant often has to be transported to it. The fuel source that Drax was built to consume is spent. The plant was started in '74, completed in '86, started co-firing biomass in 2010 -- I reckon it's had a good innings. Once you start burning trees felled an ocean-ride away you gotta rethink your existence I reckon. I honestly can't believe it, aren't we meant to be chopping trees down to pulp into paper, not to pelletize them for burning.

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>> How big was the grant (subsidy) you got to install it?

Nothing. Fully funded by a bank loan that's being paid back by the savings on the electricity bills.

>> What value is the feedin tarriff you're getting?

About half of what we pay. But that's practically irrelevant as it's an on-grid setup such that the theoretical maximum we can get is to pay nothing, averaged over a year. As they say; in theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, we still pay!

>> And if you honestly expect to get 25 years out of a solar PV installation I have a couple of bridges I'd like to sell you. It'll be down to 50% capacity in 8-9 and half that again by year 16, if the inverters haven't blown by then or some other silicon failure knocked it out.

Well, I'm a simple physics major who does IT for a living, so what do I know...? But the contractual warranty on the inverters and panels is 10 years. And the warranty on the panels includes an efficiency of 80% after 10 years; so I guess we get new panels, if what you're saying is true! In any case, everything breaks down, and I cannot see the fundamental difference that will make solar tech fail more than fossil fuel; or nuclear, for that matter. If anything, I would think that having fewer moving parts will make solar last longer, all things being equal.

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>> But in the context of the UK energy system that doesn't help.

Well, that's not a failure of solar technology, is it? It's a failure of whoever is trying to implement it.

Nothing is a one-size-fits-all.

I mean, if we tried to use, say, tidal generation in this practically-land-locked-desert right here, how well would you expect it to work? And would it not working be at all an indication of how well it would work if properly implemented off of the shores of an island?

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Don't forget that the 6 million+ tonnes of soil nutrient-depleting chomped up trees (2014 figures) need to be shipped over from the US to feed Drax alone.

The recent fall in the exchange rate will kill the economics of Drax. IIRC from their published data, they have a series of currency hedges that'll protect them for about a year to eighteen months, but after that they simply won't be paid enough for wholesale electricity to make a net profit.

In the real world they'd go bust, but because of the huge and ongoing fiasco that is UK energy policy, government will be forced to find some way of keeping Drax open. With no reserve margin to speak of, they need the capacity to stay available, and that will mean some cludge to give Drax plc more money. Or they'll hope for a jumbo sized pre-pack insolvency, where a mate of one of the senior creditors can buy the assets on the cheap, and with all the previous equity and junior debt wiped out, they'll in theory be able to run the plant profitably.

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Anonymous Coward

> To be fair, wind and solar are gimmicks too.

Better tell that to Costa Rica.

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Or electricity bills will increase, just like everything else. Gas powered stations have the same problem, as even if the gas comes from the North Sea, it is paid for in US$.

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Better tell that to Costa Rica.
Why? They don't derive their energy from solar and wind. They derive it from hydro and geothermal.

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"We have a PV system running, at work. No subsidies whatsoever."

I find that very difficult to believe. Are you claiming that the company has forgone the FIT and is selling the electricity generated at the current unsubsidised wholesale price of 3.8p/kWH? I can't see your bean counters being very happy with that.

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Pavement power

It all seemed to work so well for Michael Jackson.

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JDX
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re: for the UK government to subsidise PV at the ridiculous rates ... was madness

I don't think you understand. New technology is more expensive so it requires backing to get people to bother - companies will invest seeing the long-term profits but individual people don't have that resource.

The government uses taxes and subsidies as a kind of crude steering because ultimately the market responds to what makes money. Tax things you don't like, subsidise things you do.

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Pirate

In this case, I daresay PT was right about "fools" and "money" and also the one "born every minute". They must have had one hell of a sales pitch and maybe a 20 martini lunch when they pitched this.

Icon... because the city got boarded and looted.

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Let's not complain too much : now there will be a real-life example of the tech. In a year or so, we'll be able to ask : so, how's those pads working at the generating energy part ? What are the exact figures ?

One way or another, those figures will be published, then compared to the amount of energy required.

Then we'll be able to have a hearty guffaw and that will be the end of it.

Because the only reason we're still hearing about this nonsense is that nobody is publishing actual figures, everything is just marketing. If we could harness marketing energy, we'd already be exploring the stars.

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We'll be able to ask for the exact figures, at which point the marketing guys will tell us the yearly energy total and word the answer in such a way that it sounds like it's daily. Or they'll say that the pads were wrongly installed. Or they'll give the total energy produced since installation in watts, so that it sounds like a big number, and fail to mention it as a percentage of total streetlight consumption. Or they'll give the numbers from the single busiest square meter and try to pass it as the average. Or a combination of the above. If you criticize them, they can lay down some astroturf claiming you're working for the great petrol conspiracy.

You and me won't be fooled, but the average guy who has trouble doing two-digits products and thinks vaccines cause autism will, easily - and then they just need to find one who's administrating a large city.

If all else fails, they'll obliquely admit it doesn't work, but then they'll say they have "Version 2.0" in the works, and that it will be 120% more efficient (and fail to mention that efficiency isn't the issue when the energy just isn't there).

Cold hard facts are not enough to defeat good marketing.

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> now there will be a real-life example of the tech.

I was in an airport that had this recently (I think it was Lyon or Heathrow, can't remember which). There was a short corridor with some colourful LEDs on the walls, a big sign announcing what was going on, and the floor was squishy and slightly annoying to walk on, a bit like wet sand.

Also, the normal, overhead fluorescent lights still illuminated the area.

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Anonymous Coward

Or more simple, the vendor will have the city under an NDA so the numbers can't be disclosed.

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"You're not treading on it right".

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Ditto

It's at LHR and I came here to post exactly that comment about how unnerving it was to walk on. Any energy cost savings will be wiped out by the NHS expenditure for ltreating lower-back and leg joint problems.

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"and the floor was squishy and slightly annoying to walk on, a bit like wet sand."

And there's the big gap between marketing and reality right there.

After having to slog over an energy sapping sidewalk just once, how many are going to avoid it by taking another route, or just saying "Fuck it, it's only two blocks, but we'll drive, it's easier!"

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It's also a fundamental misunderstanding of where the said energy is coming from. It does not produce energy. It consumes some of the energy that would normally be returned to the walker. This should make walking more difficult (in the same way that walking through dry sand is more difficult than walking along the wet sand at the shoreline). If walking isn't noticeably more difficult then the power extracted is pretty laughable. Basically you are using the human body as a power generator. Putting aside for the minute that some of us really should be expending a few more KJ or moderating our intake, the efficiency question becomes about how efficient a human is at generating that energy and whether it would be more environmentally friendly to burn coal (almost certainly).

There may well be some applications where you don't need much energy, where running power specifically is a PITA where this may work (eg doorbell or keyfob that gets just enough energy from the button press to broadcast its signal) but it isn't chances are against watch batteries not coal, gas, nuke, solar, wind, hydro.

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Anonymous Coward

This is the US. People will drive 2 blocks to start with. I was once on holiday in Orlando and went into a restaurant to book a table for later that evening. They asked when I wanted the courtesy car to pick me up from the hotel. I pointed out that I was just over the road about 50m down and would walk.They looked at me as though I had suddenly grown an extra head.

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Man, it is Orlando! If you walk, you can get mugged or run over by a taxi. That is why they offered the courtesy car.

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Anonymous Coward

> Cold hard facts are not enough to defeat good marketing.

Just to be fair to GOOD marketers, and there are a few out there, they do not need and won't resort to lies. Yours is not an example of good marketing, it is an example of bad and aggressive marketing, which is sadly very common.

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Anonymous Coward

> this may work (eg doorbell or keyfob that gets just enough energy from the button press to broadcast its signal)

Don't go running to the patent office with that idea.

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quantity

It's a common omission. We see it in health, be it diet or adverse radiation. Many people seem to see the world in terms of some or none, ignoring the fact that very little is of no consequence.

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Unhappy

Thank you...

...for pointing out the vapidity of this idea.

To me, "energy-harvesting pavement" is the real-world equivalent of The Simpsons' Monorail, and it looks like Vegas is the latest (sadly, not the last) place to get taken in by its huckster salesmen.

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Facepalm

Re: Thank you...

How the hell did vegas get taken in ? they must have a VERY good idea how much energy it takes to light a lightbulb.

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