back to article People-powered Olympic shopping mall: A sign of utter tech illiteracy

It's just about certain, now: Almost everybody in the world has no idea of the most basic facts regarding energy use. Most people don't even know that the words "energy" and "power" have different meanings1, and just about everyone is so massively ignorant on the subject that they actually consider that the use of special floor …


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  1. Ole Juul

    Now I know

    From the bootnote:

    Joules are very small people

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Now I know

      I can't tell from some of the pictures of him, but it might explain the huge beard as some sort of compensation for diminuitive stature.

    2. Hieronymus Howerd

      Re: Now I know

      Exactly how I read it!

      1. Maty

        Re: Now I know

        Joules are larger than jewels who are very small female people, but Joules are smaller than Jules who is a prop for the French six nations rugby team. In fact Jules weighs the same as 1000 joules, and is a vicious forward, or a killerjoule.

        clear now?

  2. stu_ekins
    Paris Hilton

    I love a good rant on a Sunday morning.

    and full marks for the use of twaddle.

    As any fule know, joules wrote "20,000 leagues beneath the sea" which I think was a biography of Robert Maxwell.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: I love a good rant on a Sunday morning.

      "No man is an island" - clearly written before Robert Maxwell went over the railings :)

    2. Wibble

      Re: I love a good rant on a Sunday morning.

      His parents were prophetic in calling him Bob

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor Siemens...

    ... they are always feeling their image needs some rehabilitation.

    ("Daddy, what did you do during the war...?")

    1. Bluenose

      Re: Poor Siemens...

      Or more recently, daddy who did you bribe?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        In the "western world" it's called "campaign contributions"

        Pfff... bribery is a totally normal business practice down south or in sandy lands and is attacked only if people of the progressive persuasion are feeling the strong Sunday-morning urge to fix reality by inventing scandals and the laws that go with them, preferably applied world-wide.

        As for Siemens, I thought they sold everything off except the fridge-making business?

    2. Circadian

      Re: Poor Siemens...

      Maybe Siemens believe the adage that big things are made up of very small things, and so even small contributions are meaningful.

      At least, they definitely believe that in their pricing models, where they charge extra for even the tiniest effing thing that you would expect to be included in the original quote (the weaselly bastards - "oh you wanted faceplates on your network ports rather than bare wires? That's extra then.").

  4. Sandtreader

    Energy calculations.

    (warning, from memory and in head, so could be very wrong!)

    Ok, so 4e7 visitors generate (say) 4e5 Wh, that's 1e-2 Wh per visit = 36J

    Assuming average visitor mass 50kg (in Stratford?), dropping from a height of 0.1m, PE = mgh = 50J. Assume no losses to air friction (no wing suits, only shell suits), KE on impact = 50J. Assume no way to capture take-off energy, 50J per footstep.

    Tiles are 60cm wide, assume walkway about 6m wide, you could have a double row and capture 2 footsteps per entrance and exit, 4 footsteps in all = 200J.

    So conversion efficiency required = 36/200 = 18%. I guess that's not outlandish, even it was a simple alternator driven from a rack-and-pinion gear. No idea of the efficiency of piezo electric...

    Which is not to detract from the fact that 4e5 Wh is a pathetic amount of energy in the first place...

    1. Sandtreader

      Re: Energy calculations.

      Looked at another way, 4e5 Wh (*) over 1e4 hrs/yr is about 40 W average power. Allowing a duty cycle of 25% (say 6 hours use in darkness per day), and some storage (one 100 Ah leisure battery would do it), that gives you 160W of lighting. Say 20 small CF or LED fittings. Actually to light that particular piece of walkway, I guess that's doable.

      The other issue is where this energy comes from. The pedestrians were relying on the hardness of the floor to reflect energy for the next step. Take that away and like walking on sand it requires more energy. Given the nature of the place let's assume it comes from increased consumption of sugary drinks. That comes from sugar beet in the UK, in a process that involves input of lots of embedded energy in fertilisers, plus direct input to dissolve and recrystallise in the factory, not to mention transport and packaging. So even leaving aside the capital energy cost of building the tiles, it could even be negative on a revenue basis...

      1. Sandtreader

        Re: Energy calculations.

        Oh yes, *: I'm assuming 'several hundred' is 400 because less it would be 'a few' and 500 or more it would be 'NEARLY HALF A MEGAWATT-HOUR!!!'

        1. Sandtreader

          Re: Energy calculations.

          Oh, on the 7W thing... A rival firm Powerleap claims 5Ws (5J) per step. So I'm guessing the journo or subbie changed 7Ws to 7 Watts.

          It also adds up with the claim that 5% of energy is enough to light the luminaire in the tile itself. Assuming it lights for 1 sec test gives you 0.5W of LEDs - about the same as a medium-sized torch, so fair enough.

          Enough now. Mines the one with the wind-up torch in the pocket.

      2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        Re: Energy calculations.

        Actually, Sandtreader, on a revenue basis it sounds very good - for the Mall: Visitor walks in, feels tired, buys sugary drink. Visitors, however, should pinch the free granulated sugar packets from the coffee shops, as recompense for being unpaid treadmill-slaves.

        Reduced carbon footprint at this Mall can only mean they are providing visitors with small charcoal sandals.

  5. LaeMing

    As much as I am a big fan of alternate energy,

    I am really wondering if the energy gentrated by these tiles can even cover the emissions gentrated by their manufacture, shipping-to-site and installation. I suspect if someone gets the data and does the maths, they would turn out to be a net contributor to emissions.

    1. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

      Re: As much as I am a big fan of alternate energy,

      Not to mention the fact that the ultimate source of energy (the food which us mooing mall proles eat) is most likely produced, harvested, processed, refrigerated, stored, packaged, shipped and dispensed in a manner which uses in total, five hundred to a thousand times more energy than is contained in the food item itself [[citation needed: See Rob Newman for details]]. There are a number of rather glaring inefficiencies which need to be addressed in the energy production method suggested.

      But then if said proles were going to be walking there anyway, why not parasitise their footfall?

      I retract all the preceding, if you like.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: As much as I am a big fan of alternate energy,

        In fairness, the people likely would have eaten anyway, which bring along with it all that refridgeration and transporation cost.

        Also, making each step harder means that each person burns more KCals. Everyone is treating that as a bad thing, but I'm not so sure. Clearly the Greenie "reasons" are utter tosh, they should be marketing this for the health benefits.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What twaddle. Life was so simple until you scientists came along and made it complicated.

    1. Zombie Womble

      I know, if only they hadn't invented that computer you're using.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I think (s)he may have been being facetious.

    3. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Energy / Power isn't complicated

      It's just taught badly.

      Everyone has an intrinsic feel for water, so do it this way. Energy is the total amount of water that goes down a pipe. Power is the rate at which it does so.

      A toilet is high power, but flushes don't last long. A dripping tap is low power, but over a day will expend more water than flushing a toilet.

      Electrical power relates to the flow of electricity rather than water.

      If the height that the water descends is fixed, then there is an exact analogy (stored water has potential energy). Electrical voltage is analagous to pressure (which is determined by height).

      Water also has the advantage that kids can muck around with it in a "lab" with no risk of anything other than getting wet.

      1. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

        Re: Energy / Power isn't complicated

        Energy / Power = Time

      2. Daniel 1

        Re: Energy / Power isn't complicated

        To be sung to the tune of 'Ilkley Moor':

        Power is the rate of doing work(doing work)

        And energy, the ability to do work

        Work is the distance, times the load

        Work is the distance, times the load

        And power is measured in watts

        And Energy's measured in joules

        And watts are joules per second

        Once learned, never forgotten.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There should be a journalistic lincense and one would lose it after falling for stupidity like the one highlighted in this article.

    It's depressing how ill prepared the general media is and yet so much of the population relies on it to form an opinion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On journalists

      Michael Crichton summed up our schizophrenic attitude towards journalists:

      "Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know."

      1. Mark #255

        Re: On journalists

        It's rather ironic that Mr Crichton was quoting, or coining, or whatever, this effect, since many of his books suffered from this (eg Congo, and that time-travelling chivalry-and-swords one).

        1. Tim Almond

          Re: On journalists

          It's hardly "ironic" considering that Michael Crichton wrote fiction.

          That said, I'd sooner put a bet on "scientists recreate dinosaurs from amber" than "homeopathy works", despite the fact that homeopaths have been given space in newspapers.

          1. Mark #255

            Re: On journalists

            First, the strawman - I too don't believe homeopathy works.

            Now to the substance. Crichton wrote science fiction, often in a way suggesting it was reportage or documentary. Decent sci-fi generally allows a universe (or multiverse) wherein a maximum of one thing is changed from the current laws of physics (see the fiction of Ian Stewart, Charles Stross or Peter Watts, for examples) - FTL travel, a time machine, or the uploading of consciousness.

            So, if you write about apes with language, you'd better not also invent a handy computer program which can magically decode that language (with 1980s technology)

            Or if you write about time-travel back to the mediaeval period, you should get your history right (and again, not invent in-ear translation devices based 20th Century technology).

            Anyway, it's still a sunny Sunday afternoon, so I'll end with a reference to Tom Clancy's comment that fiction is much harder to write than real life, because readers demand internal consistency from fiction.

            1. Nigel 11


              FTL Travel and Time travel are effectively the same thing (if General Relativity is right). Both are impossible, at least for anything larger than a subatomic particle, if current physics is correct.

              Uploading consciousness is not believed to be impossible. We simply don't know. Perhaps there is a fundamental problem (consciousness *may* be a quantum phenomenon). Perhaps not. It may be a mere technological problem, that will be solved within decades or centuries.

              The "hardest" SF doesn't wilfully break the generally believed laws that govern our universe. It runs with them.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: On journalists

              It's easy to dismiss Crichton because "he was a just a fiction writer". In fact he was a good bit more ... he got an MD from Harvard Medical School, and taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University. If you get the chance take a look a look at a talk he delivered at Caltech in 2003 "Aliens Cause Global Warming" which bemoans the lack of scientific understanding in our public debate.

        2. AlanS

          Re: Crichton

          I enjoyed the chivalry-and-swords one so much that I bought the DVD.

          Beer because it's a sunny Sunday afternoon ... guess where I'm going next!

          1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            Re: Crichton

            Does it involve night arrows?

    2. Wibble

      Journos don't do science

      It's pretty obvious why: they studied jernolizm cos they can't do science.

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      "There should be a journalistic lincense and one would lose it after falling for stupidity like the one highlighted in this article."

      Obligatory xkcd reference:

  8. frank ly

    Down with this sort of thing! (When will it end?)

    This sort of thing has been going on for years, at regular intervals. I am fed up with architects, 'designers' and various know-buggerall idiots proposing this sort of thing. If they did it alone, among their friends, then it wouldn't matter. As it is, they can influence politicians and real town planners (with budgets to spend) and cause money to be spent (wasted) on 'feasilbilty studies' and 'technology demonstrator projects'.

    Nobody, not anybody, should be allowed to spend public (taxpayer) money on any project with any technology content unless they have at least an 'O' level (the old style one) in physics.

    There, that's my first draconian law as World Dictator. I have many more but I won't bother you with them on a Sunday morning.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: O Level in Physics

      I've got one of these. Grade B I think. But bugger me it was SO long ago now I can just about remember V equals I x R and that's about it!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: O Level in Physics


        It was V= R x I

        I always wanted to be an injuneer, now I are one.

  9. Ottman001

    Just what I needed...

    ...a good moan to start off the day.

    I do take issue when people fail to fully quantify a unit measurement and as such leave it literally meaningless. Any attempt to extract meaning are liable to make an incorrect assumption. And as my dad always told me, "assumption is the mother of all cock ups."

    I most commonly experience such bursts of pedantry when dealing with the measure of torque output from servos as used in radio control models. Usually this specification is measured in kilogram/centimetres. Surely kilogram/meters would be a more common measure of torque in engineering? Therefore, when people refer to "5Kg torque" I feel utterly compelled to correct their lazy, incompetent, fuzzy-minded thinking.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just what I needed...

      And as my dad always told me, "assumption is the mother of all cock ups."

      Your dad was way more philosophical than mine. His advice was limited to "try everything once except incest and Morris Dancing" and "If brute force isn't working, you ain't using enough, boy".

      1. tfewster Silver badge

        Re: Just what I needed...

        "There is no problem that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives" - US Army Demolitions School

        1. Brad Ackerman

          Re: Just what I needed...

          Maxim #6: If violence isn't your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.

      2. Nuke

        Re: Just what I needed...

        Wrote :- [My Dad said] "If brute force isn't working, you ain't using enough, boy".

        No, bad advice. Never use brute force; you should find a bigger hammer instead.

        1. Darryl

          Re: Just what I needed...

          My Dad had a similar quote... "If it sticks, force it. If it breaks, it needed replacing anyways."

    2. John Hughes

      Re: Just what I needed...

      Uh, torque is force x distance, i.e. newtons x metres.

      I guess you meant to write kilograms x centimetres rather than kilograms / centimetres, but that's still wrong, the kilogram is a unit of mass, not force.

      Sounds like someone has been doing stupid translation from non SI units, pound feet, forgetting that the pound is a unit of force and not mass.

      1. Chris Miller


        I forgive you, since you may well not be ancient enough to have been taught Imperial units - but the pound is a mass unit, although (just as with kg) it is often used loosely to describe a force. There's even an imperial unit of force, the poundal: that force sufficient to accelerate a mass of one pound at a rate of one foot per second per second (it's roughly half an ounce weight at standard g).

        Here endeth the history lesson.

      2. Ottman001

        @John Hughes

        Your points are all correct. My meaning was "kilograms x centimetres" rather than the way I expressed it. The written form "Kg/cm" is normal throughout the radio control industry and in error, I blindly copied it. My fail!

    3. Nuke

      @Ottman001 - Re: Just what I needed...

      Wrote :-

      "Usually [torque] is measured in kilogram/centimetres. Surely kilogram/meters would be a more common measure of torque in engineering?"

      Indeed. Centimeters are a dressmakers' unit. In my engineering industry we use microns, millimeters, meters, and kilometers. I understand that the SI recommend factors of 1000 between preferred units in this way.

      However, in volume, the centimeter does appear because we go : cubic mm, cc (cubic centimeter), litre (cubic decimeter) and cubic meter, because these volumes are also factors of 1000 apart.

      OTOH there is not enough attention being given in this discussion to the BVS (British Vernacular System) which for length goes : thickness of a human hair, the lengths of a matchbox, a London bus, and a football pitch, the circumference of the Earth, and from here to the Moon and back. These lengths deliberately have no rational relationship to each other and are not to be confused with the units of >height< which involve Nelson's Column etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Ottman001 - Just what I needed...

        I've noticed cl centilitres in use on drinks cans and bottles, so it's not just cm :)

        Good old cm are on a far more human scale than using hundreds and thousands of mm IMHO - don't knock the dressmakers who have probably got more common sense than many engineers, LOL

        And although the Bel isn't metric as such, you'll find that deci comes into play with the dB being the usual way to express units of sound levels.

        Sticking to factors of 1000 is a bit dull really :)

      2. MJI Silver badge


        This is what torque wrenches use

        Wheel bolts 110Nm

        I do not use cm, but will use cm3

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    People in general do indeed know sod all about energy use. This doesn't stop commentators on the register banging on about how stupid an idea smart metering is and even how worthless just showing people a number representing their energy use is.

    1. Circadian

      Re: Hmm...

      I think the part you are missing is that the "smart" meters have nothing to do with actually providing people with meaningful energy consumption information. If you really wanted to show customers what is consuming energy, then they would be provided with a gadget that goes between the consuming device and the mains, and which could clearly show the impact of each and every device measured. As opposed to a "smart" meter which shows that, well, you use electricity. Only dumb people think that smart meters have any benefit for them*.

      *"them" being the average person, as opposed to politicians (who love having more power over people - in this case, to remotely shut off your electricity supply because they have screwed up the nation's power supply) and smart meter salespeople.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Smart meters


        The primary benefit of supplier-installed smart meters is selective remote disconnect capability, ready for when the rolling brownouts become necessary. Which for Joe Public is not a benefit at all.

        The primary benefit of supplier-provided plug-in smart meters is convincing Joe Public that supplier-installed smart meters are benign devices. Which, for Joe Public, they aren't.

        1. Ross 7

          Re: Smart meters

          "The primary benefit of supplier-installed smart meters is selective remote disconnect capability, ready for when the rolling brownouts become necessary. Which for Joe Public is not a benefit at all."

          Just out of interest, how do you think *not* being able to do controlled power reductions to specific properties will be better come the brown outs?

          It would appear the smart meters give a measure of specificity - the power co's can choose particular properties, whereas at the moment they choose entire estates. Smart meters allow more ppl to have a little of a limited resource, as opposed to the current meters which allow a few people to suck all of the power from an 11Kv when it gets low, and everyone else gets nowt.

          In other words, would you be happier (it;s all relative after all) if we lived on the same estate and smart meters meant we both had just enough 'leccy to keep the fridge/freezer going during a brown-out, or if I whacked everything on and your fridge-freezer didn't have the juice to keep going and you wasted a weeks worth of food?

          Ofc most ppls answer will be "build more generators", but that ain't an option in this scenario -

          A) controlled brown-outs; or

          B) every man for himself?

          1. Alfie Noakes

            Re: Smart meters

            @Ross 7

            "Ofc most ppls answer will be "build more generators", but that ain't an option in this scenario -

            A) controlled brown-outs; or

            B) every man for himself?"

            ..or more likely...

            We aren't currently generating enough power, what shall we do?

            A) Turn on a generator that emits more than our legal (and made up) quota of carbons and invoke the wrath of the hippies; or

            B) implement controlled brown-outs because we can!


            1. Ross 7

              Re: Smart meters

              Well done - you answered the question I told you not to ^^

              Carbon credits are irrelevant - it's the distinct lack of things we can burn that's the issue. What are you going to use to make that CO2? Coal is getting even more expensive to come by (presuming you don't want the high sulphur **** that China is selling). Gas is inevitably going to go the same way - if we burn more and more of it at a time, the reserves don't last as long.

              Energy is not unlimited - I know, we've all got used to treating it like it is, but some form of control over usage is inevitable. There are two ways it can go (even if we build more generators) - smart meters to phyiscally restrict usage at certain times, or the market route (charge a **** load more for it so ppl reduce their usage).

              The gov don't want to be seen to be making your bills even higher than they are, so we'll have smart meters within 15 years. Sorry :(

    2. david bates

      Re: Hmm...

      Those energy meters ARE worthless...I've had two.

      You switch off everything you can, and you're still using energy. And then the fridge kicks in and throws your efforts to see how much power your house is burning in its 'standby' state. And then a month later the display runs out of batteries. The second or third time you realise that the display is actually eating its way through more batteries than anything else in your house and you pop it in the bin.

      Its probably saved a lot less carbon than was spent during its manufacture and distribution.

  11. andreas koch

    Are Americans that much more energetic than Brits?

    I followed the link in the Article to the MIT 'crowd farm' thing (which I somehow missed at that time). There they state that 1 (one) step would generate 120Ws, The Stratford Mall Pedestrian Generator is believed capable of 7W per step. That would then mean that British pedestrians have to walk at a rate of ~900 steps per second to catch up with the left-lake-siders @60 steps per minute.

    Or am I understanding something wrong here?

    1. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Are Americans that much more energetic than Brits?

      2 things come to mind..

      The average merkin is VAST, ergo more joules per footfall :-)

      if the american idea was to use an array to catch all footfalls in an area whereas the pathetic waste of british taxpayers whiskey vouchers just uses a couple of stripes of the pietzo-placebos

    2. dr2chase

      Re: Are Americans that much more energetic than Brits?

      There's got to be a screwup in the MIT crowd farm thing. A somewhat fit unit American (a remark I resemble) can pretty happily produce 100 watts on a bicycle for an indefinite amount of time, but that is ALL the energy, and a moderate sweat results. 200 watts for "a while", and much more sweat results. 300 watts for a minute or two. Anything that is harvesting "spare" energy, as opposed to annoying the energy producers, has to be at the rate of 10 watts or less (at 60 steps/min, 10J/step, at 120, 5J/step). 120 watts might be the entire energy expended in purposefully walking.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Are Americans that much more energetic than Brits?

        > 1 (one) step would generate 120Ws

        Only if everyone is jerking off in resonance with the floor infrastructure!

  12. Pete 2

    Hope for the best

    Maybe the most fortuitous outcome from this publicity stunt could be the widespread adoption of these "magic" tiles by the ignorant, innumerate and terminally trendy. With luck they'll be so in awe of this new way of getting so little much energy at so high low a price that they'll rush to install them in their own homes. Then, come the time of accounting: when the invoice for the tiles' supply and installation doesn't match (or even come within 0.1%) the cost of electricity consumed they might just begin to ask questions.

    Although the obvious question they'll probably ask is "why weren't these tiles installed properly, to get the savings I thought I should have?" it might just come to pass that one or two of the II&TT's would start to question the whole premise of energy-saving wheezes that are targeted at them, as a whole. If that does happen, at least the monumental cost and complete fallacy the exercise was based on will have some, small (about as small as their energy "saving") benefit.

  13. Cliff

    No Maths Requirement

    Bit harsh! A review of the page suggests that a GCSE grade C or above is required!

    Mind you an A-level grade B in Art is more important looking at the list :-|

  14. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    The problem is kiloWatt-hours

    This unit should be banned from public use. It is evident that the vast majority of the population do not know what it is and the name serves merely to oscure a valuable distinction between energy and power. Anyway, it's only a factor of 3.6 different from the proper SI unit, which even has a shorter abbreviation -- MJ.

    This is probably more important that anyone's metrication fetish. A continuining use of miles has not led the average driver to confuse speed with distance. Neither has our love affair with the traditional pint led us to speak of yards of ale, except in jest. The next most dangerous unit, in fact, is probably the pound, but since weight and mass *can* safely be confused in the majority of terrestrial scenarios, even this dimensional dumbness pales against the kilowatt-hour.

    Technically minded authors and publications could lead the way. (El Reg, do you fancy making a New Year's resolution?) Over time, we'd arrive at the happy state wherein any article that used the kWh unit could be safely dismissed as innumerate. (To be honest, we are pretty much there already.)

    1. Pete 2

      Dimensional analysis

      But kiloWatt*hours are a useful unit, as they have a direct connection to people's experience and their consumption of electricity. It's easy to know that if you run a 1kW electric fire for one hour how much electricity that equates to in the units that it's billed in. From that follows the cost of your action.

      In the same way, we measure petrol consumption in miles per gallon, km per litre, litres per 100 km or some other variant of distance and volume. We don't feel the need to consider that distance is measured in units of length and the "per" is dividing that length by a volume (i.e. length cubed) unit. That would mean that logically petrol consumption should be stated in "inverse square feet" or some similarly meaningless definition.

      1. DN4

        Re: Dimensional analysis

        "the units that it's billed in"

        And that's the nonsense Ken Hagan suggested to fix. The unit in the bills should be MJ.

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Dimensional analysis

        Actually it's not quite meaningless. If you do the division the other way, you get an area. That area is the cross-sectional area of a 'solid tube of fuel' that a vehicle must 'nibble up' as it goes along in order to sustain its motion.

    2. This Side Up
      Thumb Down

      Re: The problem is kiloWatt-hours

      "This unit should be banned from public use. It is evident that the vast majority of the population do not know what it is and the name serves merely to oscure a valuable distinction between energy and power."

      No, the "-hours" tells you it's energy not power. However the problem is that the gumment if obsessed with "units". They assume that people are innumerate imbeciles and are incapable of understanding anything vaguely scientific or mathematical. That's why we have "units" of alcohol. I've no idea what a unit is. I understand %ABV and I can read the contents of a bottle or can so I can easily work out how many ml of alcohol I'm consuming. It would be even easier if pubs went metric.

      With energy the problem is slightly different. The electricity boards and theur successors have always used kilowatt hours, but the gas industry used therms. So instead of converting everyone to the proper SI units i.e. Megajoules, they made the gas suppliers convert energy to kilowatt hours. This is unhelpful. I know the power consumption of electrical equipment - it's on the rating plate or I can monitor the current, but I don't know the power of a gas ring, oven, fire or boiler. I can't compare the cost of boiling a kettle on the gas with using an electric kettle.

      That's another beef. Npower gave me one of those clip on thingy's with a transmitter and a display thingy that plugs in somewhere else. The ONE AND ONLY thing that it measures is current. The ONE THING that it does not display is current. So it must assume that the voltage is constant. If there's a brown-out it will show the wrong power.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: The problem is kiloWatt-hours

        "No, the "-hours" tells you it's energy not power."

        Congratulations. You've missed the point of my post, which is that the vast majority of the population *don't* understand that (or simply don't hear the "-hours" suffix). The two units (kW and kWh) *sound* similar and therefore when people hear about something involving a few hundred of either they jump to the conclusion that this is comparable to a few hundred of the other.

        We have two options. We can improve the quality of science education and wait for an entire generation of arty types to die off, or we can choose units for energy and power that sound different. Guess which is easier?

    3. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Re: The problem is kiloWatt-hours

      Emphatically not. Energy = Power times time. Kilowatts times hours for this unit. It should help remind anyone with a few brain cells to spare that the cost will relate to the power of the appliance multiplied by the amount of time it's turned on (or unnecessarily left on).

      It's not a metric unit, but it's a useful one. Are the metrication fanatics seriously contemplating abolishing the hour, day and year (and birthdays!) and measuring time exclusively in kilo- mega- and giga-seconds? If not, they should accept the logical consequences, that units with time measured in hours or days may make a lot more sense in appropriate contexts.

      Even scientists do this. When it comes to the distance of stars and galaxies, they work in Light-Years, not petameters (and exa- and zetta- and yocta- ). Why? Because the light-year makes perfect sense in cosmological terms. Ten billion light-years means what you are looking at happened ten billion years ago, when the universe was much younger.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: The problem is kiloWatt-hours

        "It should help remind anyone with a few brain cells to spare ..."

        Yes, it does, but when it comes to "Hard Science" such as this, most people apparently don't have a few brain cells to spare, so I suggest that those who do should adopt language that is less gratuitously confusing.

        To judge from the replies, the El Reg readership is populated by an enormous number of people who are very eager to demonstrate that *they* understand the concept, but not remotely concerned with ideas about why so many others don't. Perhaps this is why we live in a society where the vast majority go through life in scientific ignorance and the situation does not improve from one generation to the next.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, you've finally discovered greenwash.

    Well done, do try and keep up - environmentalists have been pointing out this pseudo-green nonsense for years. The people who do these kinds of things are NOT environmentalists, they are businesspeople working for large international corporations. Any corruption or hypocrisy in their actions is a problem with capitalism's response to environmental problems, not with the principles of environmentalism. Will look forward to reading your future articles with greater interest if you're finally learning to tell the two apart.

  16. Jason Hindle


    So how long do I need to spend walking around the mall to earn my fifteen milion merits and a better life?

  17. Anonymous John

    It reads as if the energy is free.

    It comes from the food eaten by the walker. The tiles can only work by making it slightly harder to walk by requiring it to generate electricity too.

    And El Reg made a similar mistake yesterday in the article on Tablet accessories in saying you could charge one free from a car's cigarette lighter. Not unless the petrol/diesel was free.

    1. Fibbles

      Re: It reads as if the energy is free.

      Surely the energy is free though, at least for the owners of the mall?. Cutting the costs of their electricity bill by increasing the food bills of their customers... sneaky bastards.

      1. Anonymous John

        Re: It reads as if the energy is free.

        True. And if there was a gadget that could drain visitors' cellphone batteries, I expect they'd install one.

  18. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    The only green tech that has really worked ..

    .. isn't green, it's white and depends on yellow.

    The Urimat waterless urinals actually seem to work (and the mechanics underneath are Swiss, so it'll probably last as well).

    For the rest I have seen so much BS sold in the name of "going green" that it tends to set off an allergic reaction when I read it. Take a simple example, hybrid cars. Yes, they may save you some money and fuel - but if you buy a decent modern engine you get about the same savings, but the car is massively cheaper (so the higher use is paid for by the $$ you save), and it has no dependency on chemical components that can only be mined chemically.

    FYI, to extract the base ingredients of a lithium battery from ore, you need MASSIVE titanium vats and heaps of energy, so somewhere else on the planet, huge belching clouds of a mining extraction process undo the alleged greenness many times over.

    1. dr2chase

      Re: The only green tech that has really worked ..

      Numbers I've seen (sorry, link missing) suggest that the whole-life energy consumption of a hybrid auto nicely beats that of a similar internal-combustion alternative. Don't forget that used lithium batteries are recyclable (and are expensive enough that one would do so), so it's also unfair to ding them for their entire refining cost. Here's one discussion:

      That said, the dollars don't work so well, unless you expect the price of oil to spike, or perhaps if you have an "optimally" long commute (i.e., round trip is 90% of the one-charge range, or even better if you get to charge at work and round trip is 180% of the one-charge range).

      There IS other green tech that works. In many places, bicycles work for transit and transportation, and with very sensible assumptions about diet (i.e., not making up the extra calories with 100% beef protein) they net out to a huge energy savings. Green building practices (typically, loads more insulation, and control of air exchange) also work. In some parts of the world this is simply "the building code", though here in the US it is common for a new building to still be relatively underinsulated and leaky. In both cases, however, you don't see near the rah-rah-gee-whiz advertising these useless step-energy tiles get. An energy-saving bicycle is a Raleigh rescued from someone else's trash and repaired, fitted with a Wald basket for your stuff.

  19. Don Jefe

    Easy Solution

    Nuclear reactors for everyone. One in each home, each mall and each baby crib. Hell, we should cram them in cows too! There can be no other solution and no research into other options.

    By the time Mr. Page figures out he's done the math wrong he'll have forgotten his rant anyway and be on to the next thing that can't work because anything that doesn't run on fissile material is stupid.

    I love how the knocks on the guy for not having a maths focused degree, but preaches about nuclear like he has physics or chemistry knowledge. He doesn't.

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: Easy Solution

      "Nuclear reactors for everyone. One in each home, each mall and each baby crib. Hell, we should cram them in cows too!"

      Your enthusiasm is great, but we don't need quite that many nuclear reactors. If we wanted to meet our entire UK electricity consumption by nuclear power, then 25 new designs such as the European Pressurized Reactor being built in Finland at the moment, would meet those needs. That could replace the 9 existing nuclear, 14 coal power plants, 44 gas powered plants, 3 oil powered plants (!), 4 open gas turbines, 35 hydroelectrics plants, 4 open gas turbine plants, 4 misc power plants such as landfill and, for the sake of completeness though their actual electrical contribution is small: the 15 offshore windfarms and 226 onshore windfarms.

      "There can be no other solution and no research into other options."

      What is this strange figure made of straw I see approaching? Sure, put research effort into solar, geothermal, wind (appropriately), but whilst doing that, let's keep ourselves running on nuclear power which is cleaner and has far longer and safer fuel supplies than fossil fuels, yes?

      "By the time Mr. Page figures out he's done the math wrong he'll have forgotten his rant anyway and be on to the next thing that can't work because anything that doesn't run on fissile material is stupid"

      The argument put forward was not that the tiles wont work because they don't "run on fissile matieral". It's the idea that (a) energy just comes from nowhere for free, i.e. that this doesn't create a harder to walk on surface and (b) that the energy returned is in any way comparable to the energy being spent.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its nice to visit a section of the internet where the average IQ isnt that of my 3 month old cousin.

    1. amanfromearth


      I think you missed the post by Don Jefe, above.

  21. robinspat

    Joules are very small people

    =============================> " As Joules are very small people often use watt-hours (one watt for one hour, ie 3600 Joules)... "

    Joules are not very small people, but commas are very small yet do so much if used well just like another old friend the apostrophe.

    From a 'techy' point of view, this brings to mind the Aphex aural exciter quote, strap line,

    'not noticed by its presence, missed by its absence.'

  22. loopy lou

    Well said Lewis

    You were pretty restrained. This utter idocy makes me weep. Apart from it being a pathetic quantity of energy, faced with walking on tiles that extracts energy from your motion (presumably they give a bit so you have to work that bit harder to take the next step) I for one would walk round the side just like I won't wade through snow if there is a clear path to walk on. I suspect 99.9% of the population would do the same.


    1. Richard Ball

      Re: Well said Lewis

      If you walk around it they'll make you wear a hat with a little wind turbine on it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mackay: Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air

    99% of what needs saying on the subject of numeracy, energy, power, sustainability, etc has already been said better than I ever could (probably even better than Lewis) by Professor David Mackay FRS (Professor of Physics in Cambridge, fwiw), and is in the form of a freely downloadable full length book, fully referenced. Or if you prefer, there's a 10page executive summary.

    Never mind the kindergarten colour scheme, what matters is the content of the book not the presentation of the website, and although there may be a few things to disagree with in the content, it's vastly superior to anything else I've seen.

    Nice work, your professorliness, even if you did accept the Blair shilling at one stage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mackay: Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air

      It's an invaluable resource to correct people who are convinced that a couple of solar panels on every roof will provide all the power we could ever need. Fully referenced, calculations all worked through (almost all the maths is GCSE level, which is more than sufficient to show that we CANT run the UK off wind power and good will) and simple enough for people to understand. Should be made a school textbook or something IMO.

  24. Antony Riley

    Wonder if it's feasible to...

    ...power a gym by the users expended energy.

    Well, at least the lights & music, I imagine heated showers would consume far too much energy.

    And for bonus points you could make it a ridiculously up market gym catering to rich people who like to feel like they're doing something for the environment, to counter balance the ridiculously oversized vehicles they drive 500m down the road to the local school to pick up the kids.

    Oh crap, already been done.

  25. Gary Wood

    I've had a brilliant idea

    Why doesn't the government bung this company, say, £100bn of our electricity bills to fit a strip of these tiles along all of the railway lines in the country. Trains are big and heavy so they'll generate so much energy that they can power the trains with them! And have enough left to power some of those windmills polluting the countryside so they'll look nicer by spinning all the time!

    When somebody works out induction charging for electric cars, they can do it on motorways too!

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: I've had a brilliant idea

      You don't need that. You only need 1 train on a small circular track. If you power the train on a picoelectric tiles, then it will run it's self for ever... right?


  26. Bush_rat

    Wrong idea, wrong place

    Its a dumb idea on multiple levels, but if they have to do it any where, do it somewhere that makes sense. Like a kindergarten, a gym or roads. Kindergartens have 20-30 small children running in circles and jumping, a gym has 'roid nuts lifting 500 tonne weights, and roads have cars. All of which would generated way more juice than a civilised establishment.

    1. Sandtreader

      Re: Wrong idea, wrong place

      I don't mind the idea of a gym or play area, since in both cases these folk are deliberately wasting energy for other reasons (fitness, being three), so some of it is potentially trappable - particularly in a spinning gym where it's directly available as a circular motion (cue Charlie Brooker, as someone else has already hinted at).

      But the idea of putting this on roads is as ludicrous as the idea a couple of years ago of putting wind turbines in the central reservation. You would essentially be forcing cars to roll uphill all the time, even on a flat road. This would just burn more fossil fuels, hugely less efficiently than just putting diesel in a generator, never mind the astronomical energy and financial cost of building the thing.

      Someone will no doubt now suggest it would be OK if they were electric cars...

      1. LaeMing

        Re: Wrong idea, wrong place

        "Someone will no doubt now suggest it would be OK if they were electric cars..."

        See a few posts above (though I'm pretty confident they were taking the Mick.)

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Wrong idea, wrong place

          "Someone will no doubt now suggest it would be OK if they were electric cars..."

          You beat us to it!

  27. Primus Secundus Tertius

    I tried to fix it

    Excellent article, Mr Page. As someone else remarked, it is good to have a small corner of the Internet which is not dumbed down.

    In 2009 British MPs were exposed as a bunch of expenses fiddlers, and David Cameron reopened the Conservatives' list of wannabe MPs. They expected about 300 applications, but got 4000, including mine.

    They turned me down. Obviously a science degree and a career in industry count for nothing against their A-list material. Hence the stupid policies which put sentiment above science.

    Ye gods, I could have a good rant about this. Not exactly on message, but far more entertaining, for me and even for you. Vote for me, chaps and honorary chaps. Details later.

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: I tried to fix it

      Beer for someone who tried to get involved rather than just sit around complaining about the politicians. Hopefully you'll have another go sometime.

  28. TWB

    For once

    Lewis writes something I agree with.

    What he did not appear to say was that sadly the World seems to be run by rule makers and those who like working around those rules (lawyers, bankers, journalists, wankers etc)

    I wish there were more scientists in power, though there has been one major exception in the past....

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: For once

      Merkel has a PhD in quantum physics.

      Just so you know.

      And both engineers and physicists can be as stupid as the next person when working outside their area of personal expertise and/or prejudice.

      If you want good government, you have to create some well-defined goals without lying about them to the public (which eliminates all of our current crop of pols) and apply feedback loops with solid peer review to make sure you're heading towards them.

      And then you need to add further feedback loops that provide further social feedback to keep the primary loops stable.

      You might start getting intelligence out of collective decision making then. (If something else didn't go wrong.)

      Throwing everyone who works in marketing and advertising into the nearest volcano likely wouldn't hurt either.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: For once

        Merkel's election slogan was „Politik ohne Lüge”. That is: "Politics without lies".

        Everyone in East Germany knew the authorities were lying to them; but had no idea how outrageous those lies were until after the fall of communism. Hence Merkel's slogan.

        Good on yer, Angie!

      2. TWB

        Re: For once

        I did not know that about Merkel - thanks - typical, those sensible Germans....

        And I agree wholeheartedly it takes a mix of skills it just seems that here we do not have the balance right here but that is pure gut feeling.

      3. amanfromearth


        So she'll doubtless have no problem with the duality of Greece being in the Euro and out of it at the same time then.

    2. Nuke

      @TWB - Re: For once

      Wrote :-

      "I wish there were more scientists in power, though there has been one major exception in the past...."

      Mrs Thatcher, worked in food science after leaving uni I understand. Yet in power she hated science and technology. I was working in one of the engineering industries that she sent to the wall.

      Basically, having changed careers herself, she looked down on the losers (as she saw them) that she had left behind, and had it in for them, perhaps subconsciously wanting to justify her career move. Also maybe revenge for having been the lab junior, making the tea and clearing up. We all went through that stage.

      I am not sure what the answer is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @TWB - For once

        I thought the exception was some govt minister during the war who was a scientist or engineer - I forget the name. Who convinced the powers that be that bombing the populace would give greater return in reducing enemy morale than destroying strategic industrial targets. His mistake made the war last longer. His colleagues felt they couldnt dispute him cos he was a scientist... Perhaps this is an argument for more science/engineers in govt.

      2. John 62

        Re: @TWB - For once

        "Mrs Thatcher, worked in food science after leaving uni I understand. Yet in power she hated science and technology. I was working in one of the engineering industries that she sent to the wall." [citation needed]

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Milk snatchers of the world unite

    "both engineers and physicists can be as stupid as the next person when working outside their area of personal expertise and/or prejudice."

    Are you sure?

    Even outside their areas of personal expertise and prejudice, decent scientists and engineers *should* want policy to be based on facts not faith.

    Obviously That Bloody Woman, despite being a degree-qualified chemist, never qualified as decent in any sane usage of the word.

  30. Purlieu

    Victory over Red Indians



    I R

    Cover any one to see its relationship to the other two

    1. amanfromearth

      Re: Victory over Red Indians

      except what you drew was Victory over Indians Red

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    pah - amatuers

    This a mere journalistic error. For real tech illiteracy with bite see:

    The carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme metrics:

    By magic they measure efficiency by either energy use (emission by proxy) compared to prior energy use or by the proportion of automated meters installed, or the change in emissions by unit of turnover. No actual concept of work required apparently.

    So improve your energy efficiency by going out of business or offshoring (massive increase in your absolute metric), installing meters (substitution of effort) or by putting up your prices.

    For advanced students, as they are rolling five year averages, wasting a lot of energy in the first few years of the scheme helps enourmously. It actually punishes you if you are already efficient.

    Of course the master class in energy efficiency reduction is those that managed to get someone else's name on the counterfoil! Bravo!

    So if you were really, really energy efficient you might get to cross subsidise someone with smarter contracts who offshored their data centre,

    Tech angle - all over the place!

  33. This Side Up

    39 Megawatts of cooling

    Will you please state exactly what you mean by this. Is it:

    a) extracting heat at a rate of 39 MW;

    b) using 39 MW of electricity to extract heat.

    There is a big difference between the two. A heat pump will typically use 1MJ of electrical energy to shift 5MJ of heat energy.

  34. Stephen Channell

    It’s not about power it’s about “power”

    If the first world war, they cut down iron railings to “make tanks”, in the second world war they collected “pots & pans” to “make aircraft”.. in neither case did any of this effort contribute to the engineering of tanks or aircraft.. it was all about changing perceptions, feeling involved and motivating people.. not a single pot or pan was transformed into aluminium, but productivity was higher, and more planes got built.

    In the same way today: the issue is not whether out carefully separated recyclables actually end up in landfill, but whether we cut down on packaging in supermarkets; not whether hybrid car help the environment, but whether we start switching engines off when stationary.

    Maybe foot-fall generators can cover their costs, but I’d guess there more use for tracking people movements around shopping centres and transport hubs.. and we’re about to see the mother of all stress tests.

    Don’t underestimate the importance of the politics: there is an environmental LIE (Limitation, Innovation, or Extermination)

    1. SleepyJohn

      Re: It’s not about power it’s about “power”

      I think you make a very good point about these things increasing people's awareness of and sense of involvement in the matter of energy use. For this purpose I suspect they are hugely more effective than windmills (the very thought of which makes me want to lie down in a darkened room with a large glass of whisky). Both are actually worse than useless for generating power but at least the treadmill makes folk feel they are 'doing their bit'. Such awareness may well lead to them actually applying real thought to real ways of increasing the efficiency of their own energy usage.

      Having said which, a friend working in a nuclear power station once told me how much energy was contained within the atomic structure of a cup of tea. I can't remember the figures but they convinced me that once we devise an efficient way of extracting it I can see energy being so freely and cheaply available that future generations will look on 'conserving' it the way we looked on 'conserving' water when we lived on the West Coast of Scotland...

  35. This Side Up

    Carbon footprint

    The idea that tiles will reduce carbon footprint is complete and utter brainless twaddle. Wtf do they think this energy is coming from? Anyway it's not kinetic energy - they're not stopping us moving forward they're just letting us sink into the floor a bit so we have to climb out. It's muscular energy which comes from food.

    So we'd be working harder to walk along the level - it would be like walking uphill. That means we'd be burning more food and breathing out more carbon dioxide and probably farting more methane in the process. Epic fail!

  36. weevil

    Pure unadulterated spin... anyone with half a brain can realise this is the most pointless waste of money, reduce the cooling by 0.00000001 of a degree will save more carbon. Absolute morons who decided that was a good idea to implement.....

    This country....honestly

  37. Arachnoid

    "So we'd be working harder to walk along the level "

    Yes but just think of all the possible health benefits in reducing waste lines,excersing the heart muscles and the extra sales at the burger bars......

  38. Arachnoid

    Oh and I forgot to mention on US installations the inclusion of a defibrilation unit at the end of the walkway would become a statutory requirement to defer insurance claims.

  39. Marco van Beek

    "As Joules are very small people..."

    Am I the only one who had to read this twice? I was starting to imagine lots of little people running around inside conductors carrying individual electrons....

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: "As Joules are very small people..."

      you aren't but maybe you're the only one who missed the earlier excellent sarcasm about commas :-)

  40. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge


    Maxwell's official biography was 'Roseglub'

  41. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Hmm. They must have had WalMart in mind when they came up with these energy yield figures.

  42. tremtastic

    E = MC^2 right?

    So how about we convert the population of Stratford to energy?

    100kg of overweight chav would provide a good boost to our supplies.

  43. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Footstep energy is the way to go.

    That was the way my imaginary moonbase was powered when I was 12. That, and pressure changes in the suits (due to movement and breathing) for outside exploration.

    Quite the visionary, was I?

    The Belgian inventor Gaston Lagaffe had designed a system that allowed simple tasks such as squeezing oranges and grinding coffee to be performed thanks to the energy of people opening office doors. Only it made said doors all but impossible to open.

  44. Purlieu

    To: amanfromearth

    I only did that to see if some clever person would spot it. I was wrong.

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