Research/Design Energy Harvesting Categories

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Intro: Categories of Design Projects using Energy Harvesting

Design projects about or with energy harvesting are abundant. For discussion relevant in relation to the context of this research it is needed to categorize and select a reduced number of examples. The categories chosen are closely related to the curriculum structure of the WdKA. The goal of this categorisation is to present a selection of examples which will have a direct appeal for the student groups studying in these domains.
This categorisation will be combined with two other ways of ordering these projects: ordering on the amount of energy involved and ordering on the way the energy is generated.

Commercial Projects

  • Main commercial projects using either wind or solar energy are delivering energy which can cover total electric energy consumption of whole countries, for example Spain and Costa Rica, 2015. These large scale projects are mainly technical miracles, the role of the designer is not important.
  • Although designers are involved in projects with the aim of generating commercially exploitable amounts of energy on a slightly smaller scale than wind and solar energy just mentioned (see examples), the technical constraints to make energy exploitable are dominant. The role of designers is reduced.

Solar Bike Road

The idea is simple: for generating solare energy flat surface is needed. Roads are flat surfaces, why not use roads for energy production? At the moment several experiments are made to gain experience with this concept.

"SolaRoad is a pioneering innovation in the field of energy harvesting. It is a unique concept, which converts sunlight on the road surface into electricity: the road network works as an inexhaustible source of green power. SolaRoad is sustainable and can be used in practice in many different ways."(Citation from site)

"De opbrengst van SolaRoad, het fietspad in Krommenie dat zonnestroom genereert, is boven verwachting hoog. In het eerste half jaar is bijna 3.000 kilowattuur opgewekt." (Citation from article)

Comparison: "1 kWh kost momenteel (prijspeil 2014-2015) ongeveer € 0,23 per kWh stroom.". Dutch current cost of 1 KWh = 0.23 euro. Profit of solar bike road: 3000*.23 euro = 700 euro for 6 month. Investment of the projct: 3 milion euro for 70 meter of solar road.

Critical remarks about the idea of using roads for generating solar energy are coming from technicians: [1] [2]


An idea to generate energy by harvesting the vibrational energy of footsteps in London.

Sustainable dance floor

"The Sustainable Dance Floor modules flex slightly when stepped on which creates a movement that can be transformed into electric power by a small internal generator. Each module by the size of 75x75x20 cm can produce up to 35 watt of sustained output. Between 5-20 Watt per person." (Citation from site)

Solar Cells in Architecture, Central railwaystation of Rotterdam

In this case the architecture is having a roof of solar cells. This use of solar energy is hidden in the architecture and could in principle be added to all roofs of buildings without the interference of a designer. This is on the edge of what is the research subject of "Design and Energy Harvesting". The project is great for comparisons.

"De zonne-energiecentrale van 130.000 zonnecellen levert naar verwachting 340 megawattuur per jaar. Ruim voldoende voor de energievoorziening voor de roltrappen, verlichting en de liften op het station en vergelijkbaar met een energiebehoefte van 100 Rotterdamse huishoudens. Het zonnedak realiseert een CO2-reductie van ongeveer 8 procent." (citation from site)

Comparison: 340*1000kWh = 340 * 1000 * 0.23 = 78000 euro's, using the same data as the solar bike road.

Social Projects

In this type of project the role of the designer becomes more prominent than in the case of the commercial projects. The social projects are smaller in size and investment.

Designers are setting up many local small scale projects for example for people living in Africa

As pointed out in the article [3] these project serves three purposes: health, education and poverty alleviation.

  • Solar energy
    • wakawaka light for mothers promoted by the ASN bank. "10 houres of charging = 80 hours of light" (Citation from site). Cost: 29 euro.
    • Little Sun. This is a small lamp running on a solar cell with a prominent designed solar shape. The price for customers in Europe is 22 euro;s. Comparable devices, without the design, can be bought for 8-12 euro's, solarvet 12 euro IKEA. The difference in price is "the support" for this project.
    • Solarpuff, a lamp for Africa."The Solar Puff provides light for 8-10 hours after 4-5 hours of charging in direct sunlight. It has a built-in light sensor for an automatic “ON” and “OFF” function and manual shut off. It is lightweight and easily transported in a purse or pocket, and can be easily packed by the hundreds for emergency relief situations. " (citation from the site).
    • Kennedy & Violich Architecture, a lamp for South America. "The Portable Light mat is a fully self-contained powered by flexible photovoltaic panels which produce up to 12 volts of DC electrical power and 160 lumens of light in five hours of charge time. It is versatile and physically adaptable for a variety of reading, writing and work tasks." (citation from the site).
  • Vibration energy
    • SOCCKET: a magical Soccor Ball. Critical remarks about this invetion are clear: "Obama posed with a Soccket ball on his head in Tanzania because the ball manages to convert kinetic energy into electricity. How much energy? Enough to light a lamp! Except the ball costs $99 and a solar-powered lamp costs $10. So typical of Obama: championing ridiculously expensive green energy ideas simply for the sake of his agenda. "(citation from site).

Art - Autonomous Projects

These projects are motivated to change behavior by concentrating on esthetic, experimental or playfull component related to energy harvesting. The creative person working on this kind of projects is more the artist than the designer. This means personal history and flavor becomes more important. The execution can be either very polished (Van Gogh bicycle path) or purposeful clumsy (Metro project with fans, City Parasites).

  • Roosegaarde: Van Gogh bicycle path. An esthetically pleasing project inspired by "The Starry Night", painting by Van Gogh. The projects supports it's own energy consumption. It can be argued if the effect at night is sufficient to have a safe drive.
  • City Parasites. These collection of projects illustrate the playful and experimental side of art projects. As parasites do, the projects steal a little bit of energy from heating or cooling systems, or a bus, to generate electricity or warm an inflatable ten space. Like parasites they will be chased away, because it hampers the efficiency, can cost energy or even damage the airco system.

Awareness projects

  • Designers are creating interesting game situations for children to gain intuition into energy

Research Projects

  • research Designers are investigating possibilities of energy harvesting in clothing and devices and probing the social consequences