For years I have wondered why gyms use artificial resistance in their workout machines instead of hooking up electrical generators to them and having the electric bill paid by the workouts. Well, They are trying it out in Oregon, and the results are intriguing, as are the answers to my question. The concept has problems on both ends: high upfront cost ($700 per machine), and low ongoing yield:
The amount of electricity produced is small. The university estimates that 3,000 people a day on 20 machines would generate 6,000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power one small energy-efficient house in the Northwest. But it fits in with other sustainability projects, such as solar panels on the rec center roof, and a high sense of being green among the student body.
The power is a drop in the bucket compared to the University of Oregon's overall electricity consumption, which is equivalent to 2,280 houses, said sustainability director Steve Mital.
ReRev.com estimates a typical 30-minute workout on one machine generates enough electricity to run a laptop computer for an hour, or a compact fluorescent light bulb for 2 1/2 hours.
"We're not going to get off Middle Eastern oil by connecting up all the ellipticals all over the country," said Mital. "We bought it and installed it mostly because it's an educational opportunity. People will be on those things sweating away and it gets them thinking."
In addition, I think it will send home the message that the solutions to our energy problems are not in increasing supply, but in decreasing demand. We need to use less, not produce more.