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The pink city gets green thanks to linked innovative experiments

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par Elsa Sidawy | 11.10.10

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Toulouse has tackled issues ranging from urban lighting to public cleanliness with experimental innovation often on a shoestring budget, but the results continue to inspire many other cities in France and worldwide. A portrait of a city embracing urban innovation, helped along by the enthusiastic investigator Alexander Marciel, follows.

Streetlights with presence detection

Energy savings yes, but not at any price“: for Alexander Marciel, deputy mayor of Toulouse in charge of public lighting and municipal logistics, custom lighting is the answer. While most cities are now converting to lighting with light emitting diodes (LEDs), Toulouse is one step ahead. Their most successful initiative to date is probably their presence detector streetlights installed in late 2009. Radar integrated streetlights detect the presence of pedestrians and help to raise the brightness of lamps from 30 W to 70 W. “To our knowledge, we were the first city to test a LED lamp with presence detection,” says Marciel Alexander. The idea is to maintain a minimum lighting in all circumstances: in short, less light, but smarter light. “In moderately busy areas that make up perhaps 80% of the area of the city, presence detection lighting could work,” says the deputy mayor. With this formula, the city will halve the energy consumption associated with street lighting within 10 years. The icing on the cake: the experiment should stimulate economic activity since three manufacturers go to market with their products here by the end of the first year of the lights’ installation. This initiative is part of a more comprehensive policy implemented by the city: it optimizes the lighting of sidewalks for pedestrians, while reducing the illumination of the roadway. Solar signals, which are less energy consuming and easier to install than candelabra, were installed on some roads in the city to demark the pavement like on an airport runway.

corps_toulouse_101027Pedestrians will soon produce the energy needed to light the street

In the Netherlands, a piezoelectric slab famously produced energy through the movement of people … in a nightclub. In Toulouse, the idea was revived and redesigned for the public domain. The concept is relatively simple: the act of walking on these tiles activates springs that recover energy, without a single carbon emission. “The tiles convert mechanical energy, in this case the movement of pedestrians, into electricity. Tests conducted in April revealed that one pedestrian automatically produces enough energy to light a lamppost.” This energy can be stored, and used at night or when foot traffic is sparse. Local players have gotten to work on the slabs’ energy efficiency and material strength so that they could eventually replace traditional sidewalks. “My biggest concern is not necessarily energy performance, which will improve, but durability in the public space. That’s why we turned to electrical appliance and even aerospace technology,” said the deputy mayor. By the end of the year, twenty slabs with a total length of 10 m will be tested near the Place du Capitole. Marciel is objective about the sustainability of the project: “The economic model is credible provided it achieves a certain economy of scale. Looking at the orders and interest that has arisen on this type of product, it can become interesting.

The Pic du Midi, an astronomical observation deck, is no stranger to sustainable lighting policy. “All this fits into our plan to reduce light pollution: instead of illuminating the sky we illuminate the ground. In fact, we gain lux and consume less, so the equation is rather positive, “says Marciel Alexander. In June 2009, mayors of Toulouse, Tarbes, Bagneres-de-Bigorre also signed a charter pledging to protect the skies from over-aggressive street lighting.

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May 9 to 11
Energy Cities annual meeting, Guimarães, Portugal.

May 12
International Workshop on Open Data, Nantes, France.

May 12
Stockholm Summit on Service Innovation in Cities, Stockholm, Suède.