When you were kids, did you have that cool attachment on your bike – a dynamo – that powered your bike lamp with no battery? All the kids who had them would go whirring by in the dark, the dynamo spinning against the side of the wheel, and their lights glowing brighter and brighter, the faster they went. Of course, when they stopped, the beam would fade and the world would grow dark again. At Adam Boesel’s Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, this gadget is taken to a whole new level.
Adam aims to have the greenest workout place around. First, he installed solar panels on the window shades (to save electricity) and then decided not to install showers (to save water and heat) [HEY! There is a limit to how far one should go!] Feeling that was not enough, he then added a Human Dynamo – a set of four full-body workout machines with pedals and hand cranks that generate electricity in a dynamo – and three spin bikes attached to a motor to generate electricity from all the sweat and tears invested by the customers.
The makers of Human Dynamo, Henry Works of El Paso, Texas, estimate that a single user can generate electricity at a rate of 50 watts (50W), just about enough to keep three of those bright, efficient compact fluorescent lamps going at once – or one, dim, wasteful 50W incandescent bulb. The Team Dynamo can provide 150 – 450 W, depending on how olympian the athletes actually are.
The Green Microgym’s system generates about 1000W (one kilowatt), which is saved in a battery and is used to power the TV and entertainment system.
On a slight digression, during the early 1990s, I made friends over the net with a fellow in Albuquerque who was slowly converting his house over to solar power (even though he was connected to the grid, so it wasn’t for the savings). His wife said she would rather he spent the money on that than on a sports car… In the living room, he had an old bicycle mounted up and connected to a battery for powering the TV, which was a power hog at 75W, and could not be supported by the photovoltaic panels. So you could ride the bike for an hour and watch 20 minutes of TV, giving you a real feel for how much work it is to generate the energy we actually use.
But what about the larger view: can we use human power to supply a significant amount of the power we use? Let’s consider a larger gym, where we could install a bank of these Team Dynamos, and count on them operating all the time to power the facility. Consider the entertainment center of 5 plasma screens (350 watts each), the surround sound system with the super-sub-sonic bass thumper-woofers (500W each), and the lighting (2,000W even with fluorescents). You’ll see that the amount of power starts adding up quickly, and you’d need 15 or 20 of the Team Dynamos running all the time to just to power these three systems.
When we add the 3,500 watt AC system (or two: remember, it’s a large gym) you can see that using human power as a sole power source is not feasible, even when the space is dedicated to exercise. But even so, human generated electricity is a great idea for a number of reasons.
1. It can reduce the amount of electricity used by a significant amount, and combined with other measures it can save quite a bit of conventional power and the air pollution it causes – natural lighting, photovoltaic panels, maybe a roof windmill. And the owners can institute a policy that the TV’s are on only if there is enough power being generated . . .
2. The exercisers will gain an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into producing power, and will gain a new awareness of energy consumption: “In order to operate my fridge (say 400W) for one hour, I’d have to Dynamo (at 50W) for 8 hours.”
The idea of human powered entertainment is not limited only to gyms. This spring, a Tel Aviv concert by Knesiat HaSechel was powered in part by bicycles.
Oh, and remember those showers that Adam Boesel didn’t install? He figures that as a neighborhood gym that 90% of the people walk to from home, they aren’t really necessary. And he’s talking about pizza or pasta credit at local restaurants for generating power on his Dynamos: “You generated 55 watt-hours today, so let’s see . . . we’ll set you up with a double-cheese-and-extra-mushrooms pie at Joe’s house of Pizza next door.”
msnbc.com: Pedal pushers power innovative gym
Green Microgym photo: courtesy Green Microgym
Human/Team Dynamo photos: courtesy Human Dynamo