Human Power: Exercise Equipment with Generators!

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?

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!

Solar Production: States vs. Countries

After taking a look at renewable energy production on a global scale, I’m shifting focus to individual states.  As a transition, here is a great article I found that compares the solar production capacity of different countries to individual states in the union on a per capita basis.

Check it out, there are some big surprises in there.  The biggest underdog that comes out near the top? New Jersey.

More soon!

Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries (CleanTechnica Exclusive) (via Clean Technica)

I think you all are going to love this one. But before getting into the numbers and charts, here’s one quick caveat on the ranking below: my solar power installation data for the countries was for the end of 2011, whereas my solar power installation data for the states (courtesy of GTM Research,…

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Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy? By Percentage

Last week I posted a list of the 5 Countries that produce the most renewable energy.  Not suprisingly, the countries on the list tended to be large countries that also consumed the highest amounts of electricity.  In fact, three of the countries on the list were also in the top 5 Coal consumers.

While it is definately worth recognizing those countries for increasing the amount of renewable electricity generation in their country and worldwide, I thought (and readers agreed) that we should take a look at which countries produce the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources.  In this way, we can see which countries have invested the most in setting up a sustainable energy future, regardless of size.  So, with that I give you the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producer’s by Percentage:

note:  This ranking was tough to determine, based on several different sources, with different classifications of renewable energy, different data sets, and different publish dates.  So if you disagree with a ranking, or think that I left out a country, comment and let me know!

We’ll start with #5 and count down in order to create some suspense.

#5.  Germany

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any to see Germany make this list, with their declaration in 2011 that they will close all of their nuclear power plants by 2022.  Germany has become the worlds largest producer of solar power, while diversifying their energy portfolio with large portions of wind and biomass electricity as well.  As of 2011, Germany generated roughly 20% of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy, 8% from wind, 8% from biomass, and 3% from solar.  Since then, the country has expanded solar production to account for close to 10% of their average annual electricity needs!

Germany has acheived this through agressive subsidies and ‘feed in tariffs’, and it hasn’t been without criticism, but it certainly shows the country’s commitment to renewable energy and has made them a leader.

#4.  Spain

Spain has become one of the world leaders in wind power, and recently set the world record in wind electricity production.  In 2011, renewable energy accounted for 22.3% of Spain’s electricity production, with 15% coming from wind (now more like 20-25%), 3% from solar (now 5%) and 2% from biomass.

These recent increase could have placed them higher on the list, but the other entrants have been increasing the renewable portfolios as well.  It should be noted that Spain has added to their significant debt problem in building this infrastructure, but has also made strong investments for the future and placed them near the front of the pack for clean energy generation.

#3. Portugal

Portugal is another heavy hitter when it comes to wind production.  In 2011, wind accounted for 20% of the country’s electricity, added to biomass (5%), and some solar and wave production as well to bring their total renewable production to 25.3% of their electricity portfolio.

Wave Farm in Portugal via

Wave Farm in Portugal

Portugal had good reason to diversify their electricity generation:  In the past, the country depended on hydroelectricity for over half of their energy, but the output of those facilities varied greatly due to droughts.

#2. Iceland

Iceland is well known for its commitment towards sustainable practices, and has made good use of their unique resources.  The country is blessed/cursed with large amounts of volcanic activity (Eyjafjallajökull anyone?) that give the small island vast amounts of geothermal potential.  They harness this heat to produce steam and turn their generators, creating a whopping 26% of their electricity.

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik via

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik

Iceland might just have the most renewable energy production in the world when you take into account that they use the same geothermal resources to heat almost all of their homes.  If you count hydroelectricity, then the country is 100% renewable.  Not every country has the ability to harness geothermal the way Iceland does, but they are sure making the most of it!

and the country that gets the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources is….

#1. Denmark

Denmark produces nearly half of their electricity from renewable sources (45%), making them the leader in renewable energy by percentage.  30% of their power comes from wind alone, and another 15% from biomass.  They aren’t stopping there either: the country plans to get half of their power from wind alone by 2021.

Offshore wind farm in Denmark via

Offshore wind farm in Denmark

Denmark is demonstrating to the world that wind power can in fact be a significant portion of a country’s electrical production.  By making use of offshore wind farms, there are reducing some of the land requirements and tapping offshore resources as well!

So there you have it.  Notice anything about the list?  All but one of the countries in the top 5 are European Union members.  That is due in large part to the European Commision’s goal of getting 20% of all power by 2020. (20 by 2020, catchy.)  As you can see, these five countries are already well beyond that goal, and helping to raise the average of their fellow EU members.  Another factor that can’t be ignored, however, is the fact that Europe has been dealing with much higher fossil fuel prices than other areas such as North America, and have much more incentive to embrace alternative energy sources.  As I mentioned, some of these countries have incuured significant debt in order to make these developments feasible, which can serve as a warning to others.  But, it’s also important to note that the citizens of these nations are willing to take on sometimes additional costs in order to make a major dent into the region’s carbon emmisions.  Let these countries serves as examples for the rest of us!