AMSTERDAM // As vehicles cross the three 17th-century bridges of Utrechtse street, they rumble over cobblestones, sending tremors through the bridges, and continue on their way.
But something is about to change. By the end of this year, the energy from those vibrations is to be transformed into electricity to power lights where the three bridges cross city canals.
The US$8,000 (Dh29,384) machines are part of a set of retrofits, ranging from solar-powered rubbish compactors to carbon dioxide monitors, aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions on the historic street by as much as 40 per cent. If the project, nicknamed "Climate Street", works on the nearly kilometre-long stretch of shops and restaurants, its planners hope to bring similar measures to a business park outside the capital.
"In theory, we can be 100 per cent sustainable," said Yoeri van Alteren, the director of Club van 30, the company managing the project. "But in practice, you have to talk to the entrepreneurs to get them to invest in some things, and you have to be helping with some things."
The $1.5 million project takes a different approach from that of the eco-cities which are springing up around the world, including in the UAE. Abu Dhabi, through its clean-energy company Masdar, intends to spend $16 billion to create a carbon-neutral city in the desert. Planners hope that the 6-square-km site on the outskirts of the capital will draw 40,000 residents and a slew of international companies, although not all of the planned space has been signed for by tenants.
Developers of such large projects have taken the attitude that if they build the cities, the people will come. The divergence between that approach and Amsterdam's attempt to retrofit an ancient street comes down to the difference between old and new worlds, said Jourdan Younis, the head of sustainable development for Oger International Abu Dhabi, a construction engineering company.
"In the developing part of the world, you're definitely seeing a drive toward the eco-cities and the sustainable master planning," said Mr Younis. "In the developed part of the world, especially with the current economic crisis dragging on new development and the increase in energy costs, there's definitely a push for retrofits."
About 70 per cent of Abu Dhabi's buildings date from before 1995, and in those building the potential for energy gains from small changes could be enormous, he said.
"It's very inefficient. It was built without any real regard for energy. You have very large glass facades, which [leads to] a huge amount of air leakage in the building, and at market rates it's expensive to air-condition the desert," said Mr Younis. "Amsterdam is on the cutting edge. We're just getting to the point here where we can discuss bicycle paths for roads and pedestrian-friendly roads where you have pavement and trees, so we're really in the beginning phase."
On Amsterdam's Utrechtsestraat, shoppers idle past shops selling records, lingerie and fries.
Project planners, whose funding and materials comes from government entities and corporate sponsors, have focused on logistical improvements in addition to installing high-tech devices such as carbon emissions monitors. Marqt, a grocery store, has cut its number of weekly deliveries from 120 to 20, and now hires a truck company with an electric fleet.
Down the street, a shop selling pungent cheeses was taking a delivery from an electric truck. A visitor pointed out that although the shop showcased computer-based technology to track electricity usage in real time, the refrigerated cases that displayed the goods were not the epitome of efficiency.
"It doesn't work in every shop," Mr van Alteren conceded. "You can't ask them to redecorate."