The KiloWatt Gym

My plans for a subsidised, grant-aided, energy factory gym of the future.

On the Watts Up With That SolarIndustry on the Rise post, Berényi Péter said (July 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm):

“I am absolutely sure generating electricity by treadmills would create even more jobs per megawatt than solar. I hope no one will push such a policy in Europe though.”

Well – Ding! I had a Eureka moment. I will open a revolutionary new health complex that will solve so many of the UK’s problems that the politico’s are going to love the concept and will throw funding at me.   Best of all this will qualify for all sorts of subsidies and payments. Oh and I nearly forgot, people will be paying me to use it. How can I possibly lose?

Kilolwatt Gym

You see I think I’ve found a way to contribute to alleviation of the UK energy crisis, increase the nation’s health, fitness and overall wellbeing, and even contribute to reducing unemployment, since I will work with local schemes for the unemployed to pay the jobless to get fit while working working out in my new energy factory gym.  Local health service schemes could also pay people boost my their energy production energy levels and increase their fitness, easing the future burden on the poor old NHS.

My bit of research (Wikipedia on Human-powered transport) suggests that humans are good for 200-300 Watts/h when cycling. “In lab experiments an average “in-shape” cyclist can produce about 3 watts/kg for more than an hour (e.g., around 200 watts for a 70 kg rider), with top amateurs producing 5 watts/kg and elite athletes achieving 6 watts/kg for similar lengths of time.” OK, That’s a good place to start.

Good grief I can even get funding to help develop the equipment: Notions of Expenditure “Request for speculative proposals to re-design exercise equipment to generate and store energy; and/or to retrofit gyms to function as local power sources linked to the grid.” This just gets better and better.

Phase 1. The excercise Bike and Treadmill Power Plant

I know you can easily couple a bicycle to a generator (more than a dynamo for lights) because I saw a demonstration of it at a WWF propaganda stand at some local ‘family day out’ fair thing. Yup, here’s one – OK that suggests a belt drive bike generator is available for up to 300Watts (installed capacity).

Treadmills seem a little more problematic, but wait – World’s First Electricity Generating Gyms in Portland, Oregon, and also in Hong Kong… Oh it has been done before.  Fine, nothing like being ‘first to be second’ (or third).  Just shows it can work.  Wow – they sell equipment “PlugOut – Think in watts, not calories” I like it. They even do cross trainers.

Now, not only will I be able to offset my electricity bills, but I’m sure close scrutiny of the UK Renewable Obligation/Feed-in-Tarriff system will enable me to claim huge payments for the energy I am able to export to the grid. A quick look at the wind generator payments suggest that not only will I save ~11p/kWh but I might also be able to get an income under the Feed-in-Tariff system of up to 26.7p/kWh. And this income would be guaranteed until 2027.  I wonder if the equipment qualifies for a grant too.

Phase 2. The Swimming Current Turbine

Current pools where you have to swim in one direction around a ‘river’ are great fun. And there are plenty of tidal turbines under development. Why not combine them? Perhaps a set of small paddle wheels suitable for a small stream. That’s probably ‘industrial revolution’ era technology. Quite do-able.

Now I did think heating the pool might be costly, so I’m going to install an air-source heat pump in the gym so that all the kW of heat generated as a side-effect of exercise can be captured and used to heat the pool. This means I can apply under the Renewable Heat Incentive for further income.

Phase 3. The Ultimate Biofuel

I have two more cracking ideas as add-ons that will further expand my renewable empire. (You might not want to read this next bit if you are of a sensitive disposition.)

Any good leisure facility needs to offer food, so I plan to lease out some space to a gourmet restaurant and a fast food restaurant. I believe that people who are foodaholics but less inclined to exercise will still want to contribute to the nation’s energy needs and I will enable them to do so while feeding their food indulgence. To that end I will also lease out space to a medical beauty clinic providing subsidised liposuction, a small rendering facility and biodiesel factory (I’ll not elaborate but I’m sure you realise the connection). Following pioneering medical research (that my now cash-rich empire will fund) I will enable regular and safe ‘lipo-donation’, paving the way for efficient biofuel conversion (and thus ending the ‘food vs fuel’ debate as it will become ‘food-for-fuel’ in my factory gym).

Business Plan

Now that I have all my ideas sorted I’m off to work out how much equipment I need, calculate how much energy I can export to the grid, and to develop my business plan.  Perhaps I could pitch it to Dragon Duncan Bannatyne for investment and business mentoring 😉

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22 Responses to The KiloWatt Gym

  1. John F. Hultquist says:

    I am almost an investor. However, as with many other alternative energy technologies the solution is not complete without storage. You could use the electricity from the gym to raise the elevation of something, storing potential energy. If you add peddle powered water wheels, the ones that raise water, the water can be stored and then released to power a generator.

    Use ideas from here and the UN will likely help with gobs of other people’s money:

  2. Thanks for a rib tickling post. Berenyi Peter is a really cool dude. Like me he used to hang out on John Cook’s “Skeptical Science” until his gag reflex kicked in.

    In the western world we love productivity as can be seen by considering how many people it takes to grow the food we eat. In 1860 (the year before the unpleasantness between the states) 75% of the US population was employed in agriculture compared to less than 3% today. That corresponds to a productivity increase of 2% per year sustained for 150 years!

    You neatly skewered the Neo-Luddites who exalt labour intensive methods over ones that bring cheap energy to every home in the developed world. No matter what the Greenies may say my wife is not going to cut down her electricity consumption if it means going back to washing clothes by beating them on a rock. Why should we expect other peoples to continue doing that?
    Washing clothes on the Ganges

    We need a crusade to bring electricity at affordable prices to every dusty hamlet in the third world.

  3. Pascvaks says:

    My mind wanders. It tends to not envision the utopian as much as the dark nature of humans. Hummmmm… go figure… Anyway, as I read, I believe I glimpsed the probable outcome of this wonderful vision after a few years. Initial success. Gradual decline. Ultimate failure. Greed. And more greed. Crulty. Slavery. Back to the Grand Human Dynamics of Greek and Roman times. Wars. Revolutions. Magna Cartas. Declarations. Constitutions. More wars. Space Ships. Solar Cells. More utopian dreams. Tsunami’s. Great Earthquakes. ENSO shifts. Population explosions. More greed. And still more greed.

    I know. I guess I have too much faith in human nature. I just can’t see that it will really work. Not in the long term.

  4. Verity Jones says:

    Well, glad that was appreciated. It’s really easy to get into this sort of thinking and get carried away with “I’ll make lots of money”, but if I had time and inclination to carry though with the calculations needed for ‘the business plan’ it would probably become readily apparent that the promised energy wouldn’t materialise into a whole lot in reality. Just taking the 300Watt bike… if you had a gym with 10 such bikes, they might, between them manage usage of, um, say 60 hours per day at perhaps average output 200Watts. That’s only 0.5kW of load over a year [60*200=12kW/day *365/8760]. So yes, output totalling a kiloWatt would be possible but it would take a heck of a lot for 1kW of net output and that is of course diddly-squat when it comes to energy demand.

    @John F. Hultquist
    I’d happily take your money and run with it but I think you’d be waiting a long time for payback. I did think of pedal-powered water devices – Archimedes screw-type. Actually that could be fun in a water slide scenario where one or several members of a group have to raise enough water into a storage tank to allow use of the water slide.
    Actually I do think such ‘actual work’ or electrical power demonstrations are a good thing (WWF and eco propaganda aside) as many in our society have lost touch with the effort required.

    “We need a crusade to bring electricity at affordable prices to every dusty hamlet in the third world.”
    Agreed. Actually, combined with effective storage, some of these types of devices could, I suppose, provide power for small villages. Personally I am interested in energy and energy efficiency. It makes huge sense for example that, instead of putting a boiler in for heating the house and domestic hot water, when there is sufficient quantity/cost reduction in microCHP, that we should all generate power along with heat, exporting what we can’t use.

    Sometimes you just have to believe in the positive… Greed is, after all, at the root of many of man’s greatest achievements.

    @Another Ian,
    Wonderful. Thanks for the reminder. It’s a great example of the scale of things we can power easily. I went to a park recently where some industrial archaeology was preserved and interpreted for visitors. As well as the usual signs with written explanations they had wind-up devices playing recorded information – stories of the life and times of the people who worked there. This was all outdoors – I was quite impressed. Needless to say I am a big fan of Trevor Baylis and his wind up radio.

  5. With regard to a minor piece of industrial archaeology, electricity arrived in my dusty hamlet in south Wales in 1948. My family owned five beautiful oil lamps with heavy bronze bodies and graceful glass chimneys. One of my responsibilities was maintaining them. This was quite a chore so I was happy to see them cast onto the trash heap. They would be worth a pretty penny today if only we had the sense to keep them!

    • Verity Jones says:

      My father tells similar stories of items abandoned by his family when being able to embrace technology was seen as progress, and yes, somewhere there are some potentially valuable antiques burried in a garden…

  6. Another Ian says:


    Maybe the pedal radio theme could be expanded? e.g.-

    – So those who want your Met’s predictions of worse than we thought have to come up with a mob to pedal-power the new-beaut-computer

    – So those who want electric cars have to pedal to fuel them

    – Your gym could get a commission for organising.

    • Verity Jones says:

      Hmm. OK, I’m now thinking I need a to set up a new sort of matchingmaking-cum-recruitment agency as well. Again a win-win (where I win, laughing all the way to the bank 😉 ).

      People can sign up (with a joining fee) and say what sort of exercise they’d like to do and when/how often (and or how much weight they’d like to lose). My company can assign them a personal trainer who will set them goals and we could offer them a reward for sticking with it. So we could have a network of gyms….

      Companies can sign up for renewable energy and heat. The agency, as the ‘middle man’ will match them and manage them, so it could eventually build, own and operate a network of renewable power stations gyms next to end-users for the heat and power….

      This is starting to sound a bit like The Matrix where we’re all turned into coppertops.
      Oh wait perhaps that’s what Jim Hansen and other greenies have in mind.

      I see a minor flaw… how to keep the two sides apart so they don’t realise they are both paying me…

  7. Another Ian says:

    “I see a minor flaw… how to keep the two sides apart so they don’t realise they are both paying me…”

    Easy – two gyms, different names, or a bit of creative spin-off, like

  8. Chuckles says:

    Excellent idea Verity, with a couple of caveats and suggestions –
    Since the ideas need some fine tuning, clearly more research is needed, so I’d suggest a grant or subsidy or two is needed to optimise the strategy and business plan.
    With all the excess CO2 generated by the huffing and puffing, you’d probably want to have some indoor gardens in the gym to absorb the excess. I’d suggest organic vegetables.
    You’d need to forgo a bit of the generated power, probably not more than 50 or 60%, to provide free wifi, so all the gym members could tweet one another about how good they feel about saving Gaia while pedalling.
    I fear that one almost insoluble obstacle remains; while gym membership is almost obligatory in the target market, actual attendance is not…


  9. Verity Jones says:

    @Another Ian
    Yes would work just fine in large cities etc. although perhaps more risky in smaller communities where people tend to know each others’ business.

    Excellent ideas. Herbs might work rather well as they’d help to disguise that stale ‘gym odour’ that can be quite unpleasent.

    “while gym membership is almost obligatory in the target market, actual attendance is not…”

    Ah well, evil capitalist that I am 😉 I have a plan there too… Targeting the ranks of the unemployed youth (which will again endear me to politicos everywhere) I will offer them free membership (and even a trainer) providing they turn up and use the place for a set number of hours per week. I may even sponsor a few youth football teams (or whatever games they play) by free use of the gym for training sessions.

    But this is only a means to get them to use it – I want them to become fitter and more useful to me, and the ones who take to it well will be offered better contracts for ‘points’ collected (these of course being related to the energy produced) – a sort of incentive scheme again to help them feel good about getting fitter or helping Gaia (whichever they most care about).

  10. tonyb says:

    Sorry Verity but your gym idea has already been tried. There was an excellent programme about two years ago (on the BBC?) when a familys electrical power was supplied- unbeknown to them- by hundreds of cyclists operating out of a nearby warehouse. Every time the kettle was put on in the familys home was the sign for frantic cycling. It was done during the summer-it would be a salutary lesson on the uselessness of renewables if it had been filmed during the winter when heating and lighting was required. Anyone else remember the programme?


    • Verity Jones says:

      Well what can I say – just another overhyped scheme to extract money from the taxpayer in the name of saving the world. I’ve been rumbled – mea culpa ;-). The calculations, which i neglected to reveal to my potential investors, showed clearly that I could never afford to pay people to incentivise them to attend the gym and create energy for me to sell. Even if I was getting 27+3p/kWh from a Feed-in-tarrif and export tarriff, even a fit ‘gym slave’ on a four hour shift probably would barely produce one kW.

      As you say. I would love to see that programme attempted again in Winter. I must admit we tend to avoid reality TV and ‘green’ TV programmes like the plague. Sometimes that doesn’t seem to leave much else. Rick Stein in Spain – now that’s my idea of something worth watching. I can almost smell the chorizo.

  11. KevinUK says:

    And for you Verity

    You’ve been pipped to the post by Crowne Plaza I’m afraid Verity.

  12. tonyb says:

    Kevin Uk

    Thanks for that! It was a very thought provoking show.


    It would be very interesting to see the experiment repeated in winter in real world conditions-I suspect you’d need 600 cyclists.

    I have an electric bike which I recharge using a 16Kw solar panel so it only generates a feeble amount of power. My very small petrol generator is 750Watts, demonstrating that fossil fuel is highly efficent and very portable. The only way such things as wind and sun can be truly useful on a 24 hour a day basis is if we store the power in giant batteries. I can’t see us switching to DC power though.

  13. tonyb says:


    I was just testing you…the solar panel is of course only 16watts…


  14. Verity Jones says:

    Not that I imagine you to be a tightwad (just sensible) a 16kW solar panel would cost a pretty penny.
    Just think though – you could charge your bike and boil a kettle whilst having a shower (electric shower), cooking a roast in the (electric) oven and still have spare capacity – on a sunny day. Of course this is just when you’d like to be out using your bike and least likely to want a hot dinner.

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  16. Leigh says:

    You are optomistic if you think my wife vacuums for 1 hour every day!

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