• Energy harvesters for a more sustainable life 

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    Posted: 10 December 2012

    Report by Alessandra Saviotti

    Berlin-based Myriel Milicevic and Hanspeter Kadel have been investigating the possibilities of reusing waste energy produced by contemporary cities since 2009. To do this, they investigate questions such as: How can citizens use these surplus energy supplies? What would a local micro-power network – where free energy can be collected, distributed and exchanged – look like? How can we introduce new technologies and how we can use them?

    They want to use leaked energy as a resource by collecting waste products from urban infrastructures, including light pollution, heat waste from air conditioners, vibrations caused by traffic, and sound pollution. Underground Currents, the first large system of harvesters, was installed in the Neuköln, U7-line metro station in Berlin. Maryen and Hanspeter attached small windmills to the platform that were activated by the air forced past them by approaching trains. The electricity generated by the small blades was used to broadcast audio recordings about alternative economies, technologies and societies.

    Eindhoven is the so-called City of Light, not only because it is the birthplace of Philips, but also due to traditions associated with the liberation from Nazi occupation at the end of the Second World War. Here, the idea of building a portable harvester to collect light pollution was simply flawless. Each participant suggested and discussed a way to more efficiently use the waste energy produced in the city. The proposals were very clever and revealed how aware the participants were of the topic. Among others, the most interesting propositions related to the use of energy emitted by people. As a matter of fact, a lot of the waste energy produced in cities comes not only from mechanical devices, but also from people. Proposals included installing vibration energy harvesters on streets to generate energy from people’s movements, devices that collect the heat emitted by human bodies, and devices that collect shower water. At this point, the goal of this small temporary community was to find a way to connect every device, idea and system not only in terms of technical infrastructures but also to generate new forms of economy. One participant suggested raising public awareness by ‘keeping the process small and local, because in this way decisions are easy to take’. Yes, but after understanding their potential, ideas have to escape from the small communities where they are conceived to be able to change the world one step at a time.

    After a productive discussion, the group started assembling the DIY energy harvester. Myriel and Hanspeter provided hands-on assistance in what was actually a really simple procedure – it took everyone less than two hours to construct a harvester that collected light pollution and use the energy collected to recharge batteries. Soldering transistors and wires and handling small solar cells aren’t obstacles anymore if you think about the potentiality your brand new energy harvester might have.

    To test how the harvester worked everyone was given a map of the neighbourhood and went outside with the prototype. We wanted to see how much of the light pollution around MU could be transformed into re-usable energy. Shops, cafes, candles, neon lights, hazard lights from cars, Christmas trees, light boxes displaying McDonald’s advertisements, tanning shops, lights embedded in the ground, video screens and traffic lights were among the light sources tested. All of these produced lots of waste energy to recycle. Now, imagine making it viral around the city. Imagine spreading the energy harvesters from Eindhoven throughout the Netherlands, then to Europe and finally to the rest of the world.

    I don’t think Myriel and Hans Peter want to solve the global problem of waste energy and pollution, but I believe their intervention made people aware that small changes are possible in our consumer society. Nor do they want to be considered as amateur scientists, inventors, or engineers – their aim is to understand the complexity of a problem through a semi-scientific approach, and then use it in the fertile territory of art to make people aware that through symbolic actions a sustainable transformation could be possible.


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    Neighbourhood Satellites Energy Harvests - video by Oddone

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