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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Las Vegas Streetlights To Be Powered By Pedestrians’ Footsteps

Las Vegas is a city built on hopes, dreams, and a little bit of crazy. That attitude carried to the City by millions of optimistic gamblers every year seems to be rubbing off on City officials.

Las Vegas is moving to start replacing its conventional city street lights with kinetic powered street lights. Clean-tech start-up EnGoPLANET is set to install the lights in Las Vegas’ Boulder Plaza in what might be the first such installation of the technology in the world. Related: Oil Prices Continue To Tumble As Supply Glut Fears Return

The basic idea behind the lights is simple. The lights are power by kinetic pads installed into the surface area in front of the lights (sidewalks, and potentially in the future roads). As people walk on the pads or even cars and bicycles drive over them, the kinetic energy from the pads is transformed into electric energy that powers the lights. Solar panels on top of the lights help to provide additional power and motion sensors ensure that the lights are only operating when needed. The lights also include various sensors to monitor air quality, water detection, traffic patterns, and video surveillance.

The lights are certainly a novel idea, and their use of a combination of solar power and sensors installed in the road is reminiscent of the French solar road project, which has attracted significant media attention. The difference in this case though is that Las Vegas’ project may be even more ambitious. There are very few instances of kinetic energy being used as a significant source of power (outside of Flintstone cartoons). Related: Uranium Production Costs Fall For The First Time In 5 Years

EnGoPLANET’s lighting does appear to be more widely used in retrofitting existing street lights and if Las Vegas brings the project city-wide, then that may be the route that the City leaders take. Still the kinetic energy pads are an interesting if unproven technology. It’s unclear exactly how much energy the street light draws from its solar panels versus the kinetic pads.

Some kinetic pads appear able to generate enough energy to power a street light for 30 seconds based on a single footstep. That means that a single street light would require about 1,440 footsteps to power it for a 12 hour period. That kind of traffic is very feasible on, say, the sidewalks of a busy section of the City, but it’s a lot less realistic in slower areas.

EnGoPLANET’s lighting is largely sold on the basis of the view that the new lights reduce maintenance costs while simultaneously doing something good for the planet. That pitch is attractive and perhaps even economically sensible – if it’s accurate. Related: Why We Could See An Oil Price Shock In 2016

The new lights are much more high-tech than the old ones, which opens the door to possible failure of many different types of parts, and much more complex maintenance operation needs. For instance, it is unclear how kinetic pads will be easily replaced when they fail. Similarly, instead of simply worrying about whether the street lights work in providing light, maintenance crews for the City may now need to worry about whether the air quality, video monitoring, and motion sensors are working. All of this is a lot less visually obvious than simply observing if a light bulb has burned out.

Only time will tell if Las Vegas’ newest gamble will pay off, but for now City leaders should certainly be lauded for thinking about ways to push the envelope and improve the prosperity of the City.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Jim Decker on March 27 2016 said:
    GEEZ, makes me embarrassed to admit that I live in Las Vegas.

    Factoid- the Strip is not in Las Vegas. The only high pedestrian area of the City Of Las Vegas is Freemont Street- which is well north of the strip. I wonder if the author realizes this.

    This sounds like an incredible waste of money. I hope some stupid corporate sponsor or some federal funds are paying for it. Wait- Harry Reid is (unfortunately) my senator. Of course, the feds are paying for it.
  • Mark on March 29 2016 said:
    Great idea and project! I live in Las Vegas and I completely support this idea.

    How can we move forward if we do not explore new options and ideas??

    How the investment in getting free and clean energy for street lighting can be waste of money??

    Negativity will always be the enemy of progress.

    Congrats Las Vegas. I'm proud to live in this City.

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