This morning, as thousands of runners lined up for the Austin Marathon and Half-Marathon, I couldn’t help but think of how much human power each athlete generated as he or she covered 26.2 or 13.1 miles. What if we could harvest that energy and use it to supply electricity to part of Austin? One of the most widely known examples of human power being used to supply energy is Lance Armstrong’s 2005 Sports Center commercial.
So what does this mean for us? While funny, the commercial is a little bit off the mark. Not even Lance Armstrong could power an entire building. And well, none of us are Lance Armstrong. Sure, mapawatt says Lance can produce 400 to 500 watts while climbing up the French mountains, but he only generates about 250 watts when cruising. Mapawatt’s blogger estimates that he would need 1o of the world’s best cyclists working at their hardest to power his house with max air conditioning. Given the price of electricity, these highly-trained athletes would be making chump change.
In 2008, Portland’s Green Microgym became a leader in the harvesting of human energy, using the exercise of gym members to help power the 3,000-square-foot facility. Closer to home, Texas State University is using its Student Recreation Center to make students aware of their energy consumption habits. The center’s “human power plant” is the largest in the world and uses 30 elliptical machines to give electricity to the campus power grid. It’s thought that the $20,000 project can pay for itself within 7 or 8 years. How Stuff Works estimates that during a workout, the average person can produce anywhere from 50 watts to 150 watts of electricity per hour, depending on the machine. Some machines even have outlets to power appliances using less than 400 watts of electricity. To put that in context, one could likely power a large TV during a workout but not a refrigerator; lightbulbs would be no problem.
Sure, using human power to provide electricity to our homes is not the most efficient or most cost-effective way of doing so, but the concept inspires each of us to not only put our workouts to good use but to also seriously contemplate our energy consumption. To find ways to make your home human powered, take a look at The Human Powered Home by Tamara Dean.