Isn't electricity great? Just think about how different life would be if you couldn't turn on the lights to read before bed. How would you charge all your electronic devices? Could you live without a computer and television?
If you can't imagine life without electricity, then you might have a hard time if we suddenly didn't have electrical power. Can you imagine reading by candlelight? How about cooking all your food over an open flame?
As great as electricity is, all the power we need takes a toll on Earth. Mining enough coal to power electric plants, for example, requires tremendous natural resources, and many people are affected by pollution and other by-products of the processes we use to generate electricity.
That's why many scientists are searching diligently for alternative ways to generate power with renewable resources, such as water and wind. If you think about hydroelectric dams and windmills that generate electricity, you realize it's the movement of these natural resources that is the key.
As water and wind move turbines, they create mechanical energy. This mechanical energy can then be converted by a generator into electricity. Scientists looking for other alternative sources of energy naturally look for other renewable resources that move.
Wait, YOU move! Could you be a source of alternative energy? Some scientists think so, and some have even created new machines to harness the power of humans to create their own electricity.
For example, an organization called Billions in Change has developed a "Free Electric" stationary bike that it claims can turn one hour of human pedaling into a day's worth of electricity. As a person pedals, the bike's wheels drive a flywheel.
The flywheel, in turn, drives a generator. The generator charges a battery that can store enough electricity for an entire day with just one hour of human pedaling. The bike's creators believe it's a cost-effective solution to provide electricity, especially in places that don't otherwise have electric power.
While this might seem like a new idea, people have actually been attaching generators to exercise equipment for several decades. Some of the first to try it were owners of gyms who retrofitted exercise equipment with generators to help offset the cost of the gym's electric bill. Some schools have even installed stationary bikes with generators in classrooms, so that students can exercise, read, and generate power all at once!
The idea of converting human exercise to electricity hasn't taken off as a mainstream source of alternative energy yet, especially in modern areas already connected to the electric grid. On average, commercial power in the United States costs approximately 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
A person exercising on a stationary bike for an hour might generate 100-200 watts of power during that time. If a piece of exercise equipment was used for five hours each day every day for an entire year, it would still probably generate less than $20 worth of electricity.
Given the costs to retrofit exercise equipment with generators, it could take many years to justify the cost of doing so. Hopefully, technology will continue to improve in the future, allowing exercise equipment to generate larger amounts of power at cheaper rates, making humans a good alternative source of electric power!