Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Power From The People: Gym’s Members Help Keep Lights On

“Why not use people power to make electric power? So much energy is burned off in gyms and health clubs — and anywhere else people are walking, running, dancing, even fidgeting — that linking America's twin wars on obesity and energy overconsumption seems a no-brainer. You could power your club, maybe sell some electricity back to the grid, and save big time on your bill. After all, hundreds of people are coming through and working out all day long. How could it not be a generating gold mine? Gyms in world-class cities like London and Hong Kong are taking a run at this idea. But you can find a closer one on that boulevard of hip-ness, Northeast Alberta Street in Portland. The Green Microgym has been gathering momentum there since it opened in August 2008. Owner Adam Boesel, a "typical green Northwesterner," he said, was working as a fitness trainer at a Seattle health club when he decided to go into business for himself and went looking for a marketing strategy. How could his gym be different from everyone else's gym? His bet on an environmentally friendly gym in environmentally friendly Portland turned out to a winner. Today there are approximately 125 members paying $39 (individual) or $59 (couple) to let themselves in and use the unassuming, occasionally staffed 2,800-square-foot storefront facility. ‘People like this idea,’ Boe-sel said. ‘It's the kind of thing they've thought of already and they're so pumped to see it happening.’ Boesel's handful of elliptical trainers, treadmills and exercise bikes are all retrofitted with flywheels or resistors that use their own spinning action to charge up a big portable battery — which can then be used to power the Green Microgym's lights, TVs or stereo system — or feed power back into a wall socket. Boesel worked with the Energy Trust of Oregon to install ‘net metering’ technology that allows the Green Microgym to deliver electricity back to the local power grid and get credit for it. (Net metering is available in Clark County; visit ). The Green Microgym offers a ‘burn and earn’ program to benefit members for the power they generate — or, rather, for the time they spend generating power. They keep track of that time on punch cards — it's an honor system — and for every 10 hours completed, they get $10 vouchers for neighborhood businesses including cafes and wine bars. ‘What other gym can you join where you get in shape, power the CD player and make power to make money to use in the neighborhood?’ Boesel said. Explore the catalogs of the exercise equipment giants and you won't find much that generates electricity. ‘Have we thought about it? Are we thinking about it? Sure,’ said Tim Joyce, senior vice president and general manager of Nautilus, the exercise equipment maker headquartered in Vancouver. ‘But there's not a lot of research and development around it.’ Just making a product green isn't enough to sell it to consumers who are already pleased with what they've got, he said. ‘Consumers are pretty spoiled,’ he said. ‘You'd need to have a product that's as good as what they already have and then add value, give them more. That's going to be hard to do around just making it green.’ ‘A lot of gyms have large spinning group exercises with 30 or 40 or 50 people exercising at the same time,’ he told the BBC. ‘Everyone is working extra hard and you have a lot of people doing it at the same time, and a machine like the Dynamo, if you figure a 100 watts per machine and you have 40 machines, that's 4,000 watts.’ That could be enough to power the whole club, he noted — if the air conditioners aren't going full blast.”

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