Have you ever played with a small electrical generator? They are pretty simple devices. Really, all you need is some mechanical energy to spin a conductor through a magnetic field, and presto! Electricity! In our fanciest, biggest power plants, this is all we are trying to do- spin a generator. We can do it on a small scale too: You have probably seen those hand-crank flashlights and radios. Now, if we just could find some people willing to sit around and spin something for an hour or two, without paying them, and we would have some cheap clean energy…hmmm…
Wait….people actually pay for this “spin” class?
Oh yes, that’s right, that place where most of us pay money to go a few times a week to do our best imitation of hamsters on a wheel; the Gym! Virtually all cardio machines involve a lovely rotating motion, just waiting to turn your mechanical energy (or is it chemical because you are burning calories?) into nice clean electricity. Except for they aren’t . At least, the vast majority of them aren’t. In fact, if you take a look at most treadmills, exercise bikes, ellipticals etc. all have a cord and a plug, sucking energy from the grid. They use electricity to power those built in TV’s, fans, displays, heart rate monitors, and whatever other bells and whistles they have. But then you go and apply all of this mechanical energy to them, literally the sweat of your brow, and it goes nowhere. This is a huge missed opportunity to reduce energy usage!
Now, some machines are self-powered. Spin bikes and rowing machines are generally electricity free. But, there are companies out there making self powered versions of exercise bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals too! They still have the nice amenities like built in TV’s (I run faster when I’m angry, so I watch Fox News), and displays tracking your stats. But these are all run from the juice that you produce. These machines can be bought at comparable prices to name brand gym equipment like Cybex, so this seems like a no-brainer!
Other companies are taking this a step further and aiming to generate some electricity off your sweaty, sweaty back. That’s right, plug-in machines that pump any excess power BACK into the grid. Companies like SportsArt Fitness are building ellipticals, exercise bikes, and treadmills that feature a generator and an inverter to harness YOUR energy and feed it back in the grid. Can you see gyms hosting contests to see who can generate the most electricity? Maybe offering discounts on memberships even? Or using them to tie into some larger community mission? (hmmmm YMCA?)
Granted, these machines cost about twice as much as the average commercial machine, but as with everything in renewable energy, this is about the long game. Higher cost up front, but savings down the line. Also, since this is currently a niche market, production costs are higher. The more that gyms adopt these new machines (cutting their costs in the meantime), the more the price will come down.
Of course, not everyone can spend $8000 on a piece of exercise equipment. If you are handy and industrious, there are plenty of instructions out there for turning a bicycle and a trainer into a power generator!
Now we’re talking human power!