Many times when I was working out on elliptical trainer, I was wondering whether it is possible to transform the kinetic energy I created into electricity. Though the idea may be new, the science behind generating electricity from gym equipment is not new. I remember when I was young, I was amazed when I first saw dynamos power up the bike front and rear lamps. Generating power in a gym setting is based on the same theory. I also read that one shoe manufacturer actually invented shoes which can do “energy harvesting” when dancers dance on a special dance floor. The dancer’s vibration movements help generate about 6 watts which is sufficient to power up a mobile phone.
In Hong Kong, California Fitness actually invested in the system which allows its members to help turn on the lights when they are exercising. It initiated a program called “Powered by You”. The energy is stored in a battery that powers some of the gym lights. A total of 13 machines (elliptical machines and StairMaster) were first wired up to car battery to store the energy. Those machines actually already have small motion-powered generators used to light up their display screens. In fact, most (if not all) machines, including treadmill and stationary bike screen will be lit up once you start moving the pedals.
Now, with bigger generators added, more energy can be transformed. Voltage was then converted from DC to AC to power up 13 fluorescent lights above each machine. Initially, I thought that much energy can be generated, but then later realized that it is just enough to run 3 television sets and 5 units of 60-watt light bulbs. So, assuming all these 13 machines were in use for 10 hours a day, it saves the fitness center merely $15 worth of electricity a month. With that rate, the company needs about 83 years to pay off the $15,000 investment.
California Fitness parent company (24 Hour Fitness Worldwide) in US was watching the Hong Kong experiment closely before it decided to do a global rollout. It has about 3 million members and close to 400 gym outlets in US alone. I did not hear much after the Hong Kong pilot. Guess, from commercial standpoint, unless the upfront cost of investment can be reduced, the setup will remain as pilot, because it just does not make business sense to recoup the investment after 83 years! So, idea like this may look good on paper, but not really when come to feasibility. If you look at hybrid cars, they were very expensive 7 years ago. The price now become slightly affordable only after more manufacturers jump into the bandwagon and governments step in to provide subsidies and have the cars exempted from taxes.
- It is a creative way to tap on the power of human body. It can turn out to be a very good motivation – the faster you run, the brighter the light is. So, you actually watch yourself burning fat on that light. However, the power generated is a drop in the bucket compared to the entire gym overall electricity consumption. If there is any other gym wants to set up those machines, I doubt that saving electricity is the real reason of doing so. Rather, it serves as the good motivation tool to get gym members to work out harder and longer. When the exercisers are sweating, they see an instant result and who knows, they may get pumped up to work out more frequent. No pain, no power.
- I still hope that someone will be able to mass produce the generators and energy storage to bring down the cost. Manufacturers should also considering building the machines from ground up by using smoother gear ratio to reduce friction and transform more kinetic energy to electricity. The challenge is to build new generation of environmentally friendly exercise equipment which is more cost effective.
- Also, I am wondering – instead of buying the expensive battery as storage, not sure if it is possible to transmit the electricity back out to the grid and sell it back to the utility companies? I mean, plug the machines into any wall outlet and then start pedaling and watch the power meter go reverse. You may be skeptical about what I just said, but I believe that it is possible, technically.
- When I told my friend about the idea, he asked me, “Why not you put the prisoners into a big wheel and get them to walk to generate electricity. Feed them bread and water. Or you set up a gym with free membership, get people walk in to run or cycle to start generating electricity, and then sell it back to the utility company.” It may work.
- At the mean time, if the gym really wants to save some money (and the environment) yet do not want to spend, turning off some of the unused lights and increase the air conditioner temperature will help more.
What is your thought?
Category: Fitness News
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