Unfortunately, we’re not talking about gasoline prices, which even after a recent retreat, have yet to come close to prices seen earlier this year. This week, we’re talking about gravity, or rather, elevator power: Regulators in New York State are considering formally recognizing gravity as a source of renewable energy, and tapping the energy generated from a certain kind of elevator that is common in New York City.
Here’s the theory: When a “traction elevator,” controlled by a pulley and a counterweight, moves up or down, gravity is at work. And as the elevator motor rotates, energy is generated. It’s really quite simple. The question is whether – and how – to tap the energy.
This idea of tapping “elevator power,” may sound unconventional, but it is really an example of focusing on the resources that exist all around us. These traction elevators, the best way of moving people up and down in very tall buildings, can be found all around New York City, transporting residents to penthouse apartments, tourists to hotel rooms with skyline views, and millions of ordinary workers and apartment-dwellers to their offices and homes. Among those who think it’s a good idea to tap the power generated from all these people moving is the Environmental Defense Fund, which has written a letter in support of recognizing elevator power as a source of renewable energy, and noting that if the power is not captured, it dissipates and is lost.
If lawmakers and scientists could agree on a good policy and practice for harnessing the power generated from elevators, it could align well with usage patterns. Consider that office elevators do most of their heavy lifting between the hours of nine and five, peak hours for electricity demand.
As we’ve noted so often on this blog, many of the best ideas for tapping the energy that powers our future will come from thinking outside the box. This may be the first time we’ve identified an innovative idea that involves people riding inside of a box.