Sustainable America Blog

Exercise as Energy

Imagine going to your morning spinning class, getting a great workout, and producing clean energy, all before breakfast. This isn’t some dream of the future — it’s something you could do tomorrow at certain gyms across the country.

That’s right, all of that energy you expend in your workout can be converted into usable electricity. Several companies are already making it possible. Based in Seattle, PlugOut specializes in making cardio equipment that returns electricity to the gym’s electrical system by plugging the standard three prong power cord that is included with the unit directly into a standard outlet. If the building isn’t using any electricity it will be returned to the power grid, essentially spinning the building’s meter backwards.

For gyms with fleets of cardio equipment who may not want to invest in all new equipment there are companies like ReRev that retrofit existing equipment to do the same thing. According to ReRev’s website, a typical 30-minute workout produces 50 watt hours of clean, carbon-free electricity. That’s enough electricity to power a laptop for one hour. Though that may not sound like a huge amount, think of how much cumulative power is generated by the legions of people who go to the gym on any given day.

Using PlugOut equipment, Portland’s Green Microgym is focused on maximizing energy creation. According to their website, through energy creation and saving culture, in 2010 they generated 36% of their own electricity, and saved 37,000 Kilowatt hours or 85% (compared to traditional gyms per square foot). Those 37,000 Kilowatt hours saved are equal to 74,000 pounds of carbon emissions, 81,400 miles not driven, or 15 acres of trees planted.

PlugOut equipment can be found at fitness centers nationwide, and ReRev has an impressive roster of universities, private gyms and organizations (including the US Air Force) who use their equipment. With any luck, and maybe a nudge from customers in the right direction, your local gym will recognize the potential to save energy and money. With this new technology on your side you could be on the path to becoming a lean, green, alternative energy machine.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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