Freedigitalphotos: photostock.

Freedigitalphotos: photostock.

I was recently checking out dogonews as a possible news source to use with my students when I saw an article about Empower Playgrounds. These are playgrounds (or maybe just merry-go-rounds?) that a group started in Ghana to harvest energy. The energy can then light LED-bulbs around the school and the children can take these lamps home to allow them to study at night.

I love the idea of children using play to create energy. But do Americans have to focus on other countries? While it’s great to help others, it’s not like we have it all figured out at home. America in general is wealthy, but we won’t stay that way by squandering our resources. Why burn coal to power park light-bulbs if children’s play could do it? Using play to generate energy in the US also fits with my understanding of frugality. You can’t sustain wealth by splurging on everything, so the less the US spends on energy the better. Why not create a method of energy creation that is sustainable so we can spend that money and resources in other ways?

Reading about these practical applications makes me wish I had a stronger background in science. For example people have told me windmills just aren’t practical because they don’t generate enough energy. Yet it seems to me like a sustainable energy future will require us to use a variety of sources; so while windmills don’t steadily generate enough energy on their own, combined with other sources it can significantly offset coal or nuclear. If I had a science background I could make this change happen by making windmills or making energy-generating equipment, or at least talking more intelligently about it.

I’m also sure an energy generating playground doesn’t make sense in every situation, and it doesn’t make sense to start pulling apart current playgrounds to install these. But what about new playgrounds going in? What about playgrounds that are worn-out and about to be replaced? Maybe this seems like too trivial of an issue for people to get behind, but what if they did and laws were passed so every new building project was required to consider an energy-generating model, or required to explain why they couldn’t make their project energy-generating?

One more play-energy generator I’ve found: a soccer ball. You kick it around and it powers a lamp to use later. Perhaps not as necessary in the US, but I’m sure there are even places or times at home where it would be useful.

Finally, it doesn’t have to just be about play. Remember the big intersection Scarlett Johansson crosses in Lost in Translation? Shibuya apparently gets 2.4 million people crossing it per day. Perhaps Times Square or other major intersections get similarly high traffic. What could engineers do to collect energy from all that foot pounding? I’m sure it could at least power some lights, if not more.

Are any of you from places where they have installed energy-generating playgrounds or other practical devices? I’d love to find out if any of this is happening in the US, or in other places you’ve been.

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