Football players power pitch with their steps

A solar-powered football pitch in Lagos, Nigeria uses the kinetic energy of football players to generate light. This technology could help West Africa in its efforts to switch over to renewable energy. Anne Gonschorek reports from Cape Town.

Human kinetic energy is now being used in Nigeria to generate electricity. This model could one day be used in schools across Africa. (Image credit: screenshot Pavegen video)

Human kinetic energy is now being used in Nigeria to generate electricity. This model could one day be used in schools across Africa. (Image credit: screenshot Pavegen video)

Africa is increasingly harnessing its natural potential. The African Union – an alliance of 54 member states – announced in December its intent to invest over EUR 18 million in renewable energy. Its goal is for the continent to have at its disposal at least 10 gigawatts of renewable electricity in the coming ten years.

“We have enormous natural resources for clean energy in Africa,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank. “We have the potential to harness 11 terawatts of solar energy, 350 gigawatts of hydropower, 110 gigawatts of wind power and 15 gigawatts of geothermal energy.”

A football pitch in Nigeria is providing an insight into how this just might be accomplished.

West Africa wants to catch up

Solar energy is a part of every day life in East Africa. The solar-powered football pitch in Lagos shows that the western part of the continent is catching up. Located at the Technical College Akoka, the football pitch was built last year in cooperation with the energy giant Shell, the musician Akon (who has spent years campaigning for increased solar energy in Africa) and Pavagen, a British start-up company that seeks to bring new energy at low prices to Africa to help solve the continent’s electricity problems.

“We found a community without any light and no possibility for people to go out at night or play sports,” said Pavagen founder Laurence Kemball-Cook in an interview with Radio France International. The aim of the project was to fundamentally change the African way of looking at energy and how it is harnessed.

Kinetic and solar energy combined

And it is precisely for this reason that the football field in Nigeria’s commercial centre and capital Lagos was equipped in such an innovative way. Worldwide there is only one other that boasts the same features – far on the other side of the Atlantic in Brazil.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these two futuristic sport fields is the fact that they combine kinetic and solar energy to generate electricity. This is accomplished by means of plates that are installed underneath the pitch. They absorb the kinetic energy of each step and then convert it into useable electricity. The collected energy can be used for low-voltage systems such as streetlights or stored for later use.

Technology for the entire continent

Hundreds of these plates are hidden under the grass and harness every single movement of the players. Together with the energy gathered by the solar panels around the pitch, the installation can provide enough electricity to light up the surrounding community for 24 hours.

As the amount of electricity generated is directly connected to the amount of movement on the pitch, the technology is especially useful in busy areas. Schools, sport centres and marketplaces could harness their own kinetic energy in the future. Soon the entire continent could be lit up this way.

Shell’s involvement criticised

But there are also critics of this project – or at least critics of Shell’s involvement. The multinational’s oil activities have utterly devastated the environment in the Niger Delta, and an appeals court in the Netherlands recently ruled that Nigerian farmers and fishermen could sue Shell for the environmental damage it caused.

Pavagen’s Kemball-Cook sees it differently and even wants to help polish Shell’s reputation: “I think it’s really important that new, disruptive technology companies such as Pavagen from London can work together with major companies to effect genuine social change.”

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