Free Electricity

I stumbled across this Slashdot post the other day which talks about the potential for mobile phones to generate enough power to run by using piezoelectric materials.  In short, the vibrations you and those around you make when you talk could generate enough electricity to keep your phone going.

Now here's the point in this post where I really wish I could remember the word I want to use.  You know when you hear about something for the first time in your life, then amazingly you hear about it several times in the next short while?  You wonder how you're suddenly being bombarded with this new concept when you only just found out about it?  Yeah, there's a word for that and I've forgotten what it is.  That word goes here.

I picked up a Popular Science magazine a few days before I found this Slashdot post and amazingly, there was a whole section in it about "free" energy.  Awesome concept.

There's a whole host of low-powered devices in common use today, and there's superfluous energy being expended everywhere.  Surely this energy can be used to power these low-powered devices?

The simplest example in the Popsci magazine was the humble light switch.  When you wire up a house, you have wire for power going to the actual light, as well as wire for control going from the light to the light switch.  When you flick the switch to turn the light on, you're expending energy.  Not much, granted, put apparently enough to send a wireless signal to the light (or a controller next to it) to tell it to turn on.  With a setup like this, there's no need for wire to run down the walls to the switches.  Yeah, it's not much of a power saving and it's probably not worth the extra initial cost right now, but in the future it could, and combining a few dozen simple ideas like this in every house could surely save some energy.

The fact is, we expend a lot of energy when we do anything.  There's also ambient energy all over the place - the obvious ones like wind and light, but also vibrations and body heat.  If we could capture a fraction of that energy and put it to use, we'd have much less need for power plants.

There are thousands of options out there.  If you go for a walk, chuck your mobile phone in the little holster on your belt, and as you walk, the up-down motion of your steps can charge it.  Or maybe the energy absorbed when rain lands on your car roof could be enough to power your windscreen wipers.

Perhaps after a time, when it becomes cheap enough, device manufacturers may get into the habit of building these "free" power sources into their devices.  A mobile you didn't have to plug into a wall or a sound-powered LED light you could just stick onto a ceiling would certainly have a market.

Clearly this stuff interests me.

Damian Brady

I'm an Australian developer, speaker, and author specialising in DevOps, MLOps, developer process, and software architecture. I love Azure DevOps, GitHub Actions, and reducing process waste.