« Air Miles changes the rules in midflight | Main | How to save on Valentine's Day roses »

February 01, 2022

London to power city with energy-saving street slabs for Olympics

Last July, I bookmarked this article that was forwarded to me.

It seemed pretty cool; the Star was reporting on Tokyo’s use of something called piezoelectric technology to power two of their heavily-populated train stations.

The method appeared neat, but maybe too futuristic. At the time, critics slammed the technique – which uses specially-designed floor mats to capture energy expended by pedestrian foot traffic – as either too inefficient or not cost-effective enough.

But while a test phase at two Japanese commuter hubs might be one thing, it’s another when the technology is adopted for the world’s biggest stage.

The city of London announced Monday it will be lining its town with the same power-saving slabs during the Summer Olympics in 2012.

About 16,000 of the mats will be installed (likely around bus stops and other high-traffic areas) in the U.K. capital in a bid to power some of the town’s street and traffic lights for the games.

London will test the kinetic energy-saving mats at an Underground station this summer, too.

“If the test (there) goes well,” said a local program head, “hopefully all the tube stations will be powered by walking.”

Of course, much of this technology’s success still lies in the hypothetical. A city like London, with almost eight million people, sees about 11 trillion pedestrian steps each year, according to the Star.

But if the slabs – which compress 5 millimetres when stepped on, then route that power to an internal battery – can effectively harness that energy is another question.

Back in July of ’09, a Toronto source said the piezoelectric technology only appeared like a good idea. Because of the mats’ high manufacturing cost, the initiative may not be worth it.

“It looks good to power a checkout at a supermarket with the cars that are rolling into the parking lot,” said Tom Rand, a project leader at MaRS. “But whether or not it’s a serious player on energy production, I have my doubts.”

What’s the city stance now, you ask? It seems to be playing a wait-and-see approach with the power-saving initiative.

“It’s an interesting idea,” Mark Bekkering, a City of Toronto Environment Office manager, told the Star. “We’re always interested in things that would reduce our carbon footprint.”

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



Post a comment


Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...