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The Green Life: Gyms Learn to Harness the Power of Exercise

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January 04, 2012

Gyms Learn to Harness the Power of Exercise

The power of exerciseGyms are notorious for sucking energy. The average treadmill requires about 1.5 kilowatt-hours, the same as a large window air-conditioning unit. But the concept of “human power” — that is, converting kinetic energy from workouts into electricity — is gaining traction.

SportsArt Fitness, a company that has been making exercise machines for three decades, is set to introduce what they hope to be the most efficient converter of human power to date: the Green System. It's a “pod” of bikes and ellipticals that feeds power back to the grid. SportsArt manufactures the inverter and the exercise machines (precursors ReRev and Green Revolution tack their inverters onto other companies' machines). Ken Carpenter, SportsArt's director of sales, says this, plus an innovative “booster box,” allow for an energy capture 40% more efficient than the current market standard.

But it takes more than numbers to get people excited about mitigating their impact. Which is why Green System's machines come with an alluring interface, called Ecofit, which lets gym-goers set up profiles to track their watts generated. “People will be able to earn points and redeem them for products, or they’ll get discounts on gym memberships,” says Dave Johnson, Ecofit’s director of strategic planning. “You should get something in return if you’re helping save a facility money.” Just drop your keycard into the cup holder and you’re in.

Johnson and and Carpenter predict contests based on human power. Imagine, say, two gyms or colleges going head to head in a battle to generate the most electricity. Ellipsing might soon be a team sport, viewable as a rising digital bar graph in the lobby of a fitness center or hotel.

Of the kinetic energy exercisers produce, the Green System converts about 70% into electricity. According to Johnson, this is far more efficient than other human-powered systems, which harness about 30% of human power.

Most gyms are eager about the prospect slashing their energy bill: “One hundred percent of the people we’ve talked to have had extremely positive reactions,” says Carpenter. “In 25 years in the industry, I haven’t seen a more positive response.”

But buyers have to wait for the product to be approved, and the concept is new to safety organizations. “As far as getting approval for human power, we are the pioneers,” says Carpenter. Still, he and Johnson are confident that a pilot project at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, will launch in February.

And then exercise won’t just be about burning energy. It’ll be about producing it.

--Jake Abrahamson

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