UK gym converts workout energy into building power

28th November, 2013 by Koray Yilmaz

As energy costs rise, a health club in Bristol has installed new equipment to harness the power of their customers.

A health club in Bristol has installed new equipment that harnesses the energy produced during workouts, feeding 100w per hour back into the building’s power supply. The 42 crosstrainers, bikes and treadmills at Cadbury House Club, in Congresbury, are all self-powered; the user’s energy is converted into electricity, with any surplus channelled into the gym’s power supply.

It’s one of the first gyms in the world to install the ARTIS Technogym machines, at a cost of £600,000. Technogym claims its ARTIS line is the most energy efficient on the market, with its treadmills consuming 30% less energy than comparable models. Users can also connect their smartphones to the machines to access their individual training programs.

Jason Eaton, general manager of the health club, says spiralling energy prices were one of the main reasons for installing the new machines. "In order to avoid having to pass on these increased costs to our members, and keep their fees at a reasonable level, we decided to invest in the Technogym equipment. It's a win-win situation really."

At the moment, the surplus energy produced by the machines is unmetered, making it difficult to tell exactly how much energy is being fed back into the building, and any resulting cost savings. However, Technogym plans to install software that will provide a breakdown of input and output energy for each of the machines in the near future. "This kind of technology is new to the industry, so we're still experimenting with it at the moment," says Eaton.

However, Dr Tzern Toh, a research associate in electrical engineering at Imperial College, London, is concerned that the cost of retrofitting a gym or installing such equipment can also outweigh the benefits. “The price of electricity is many times less than the cost of the equipment and it may take months or years of electricity savings to recoup the investment.”

But Ben Ross, a senior advisor in sustainable energy at Forum for the Future and a Director of Bristol Green Doors CIC, counters: “Successful businesses plan for the long term, and with energy costs predicted to rise for the next 17 years there's a real business case to invest sooner rather than later.”

Moreover, says Ross, this is an exciting opportunity to reconnect people with energy, and create further financial incentives to improve their health: “Once you've got your smart phone plugged in and the meters wired to record the energy you generate, you could receive discounts from your membership bill for the electricity you plug back into the system!”

Nevertheless, for gyms that do not use substantial amounts of energy for other purposes, such as air-conditioning, it may soon be possible for such equipment to power the gym when it is in use.

Since 2008, The Great Outdoor Gym Company (TGO) has been pursuing a similar idea, installing electricity-generating outdoor gyms at nearly 400 sites. Although each piece of its equipment can generate up to 700 watts, at a normal workout the average user produces between 50 and 100 watts. TGO claim a typical set of equipment should generate 1kWh of energy per day, depending on use.

Installations of their Green Heart outdoor gym, which generates electricity that is used in LED lighting, or is fed back into local buildings and the National Grid, are being rolled out across the UK following a pilot in Hull last year. The company has also fitted Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College in Walthamstow with equipment that charges students’ phones while it is being used, and sends surplus energy back into the school. – Koray Yilmaz

Photo credit: YanLev/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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