Portland Gym Allows Patrons to Power Their Own Workouts

At the Green Microgym in Portland, OR, gym-goers can expect to get a little something more out of their workout than simply feeling the burn. By using special stationary equipment like exercise bikes, ellipticals, and stair machines, the gym generates nearly 40% of its own electricity — and saves 60% on electricity costs. 

The gym uses machines made by Plugout, an American company that produces exercise equipment that harnesses and converts heat waste into A/C electricity. With the equipment, all one has to do is simply plug in the power cord to an outlet, which returns the converted electricity into the building’s electrical supply.

The gym was founded in 2007 by trainer Adam Boesel, who was looking to found an environmental gym and bring the technology of converting exercise into electricity into the mainstream. What he founded was a neighborhood gym that is accessible to most of its patrons by foot or bicycle, and a place that has formed a community with a like environmental mindset. 

But just how much power is generated at the gym? The numbers are certainly impressive. In 2010, the gym generated 36% of its own electricity and saved 85% more electricity than a traditional gym of the same square footage. That 85% — 37,000 Kilowatt hours, to be precise — is equal to 74,000 lbs. of carbon emissions, 81,400 miles not driven by a car, and 15 acres of trees planted.

To look at it from another perspective, though, the impact is just as encouraging. According to the Green Microgym’s website, a vigorous workout can generate up to 50 watts of electricity. To put that in terms of real world applications, 50 watts is enough to power a stereo, two LCD screens, five CFL lightbulbs, five laptops, or even 10 smartphones. 

In addition, Boesel has developed what he calls the “Human Dynamo,” a contraption that consists of four bikes and a crank attached to a generator. If put in use by four users who all pedal and turn the crank, the dynamo can produce between 200 and 600 watts of energy in an hour’s time. 

The Green Microgym sees a workout there as meaning much more than just getting in shape or even seeing how many smartphones one can power in one go on the elliptical. Rather, the gym sees its role as creating a community of individuals “sweating it out together” for a common goal. The gym claims that their clean energy model offers a more meaningful way to work out, both in that one is conserving energy, and also working as a part of something greater and promoting a collective “green” state of mind. 

The gym follows other environmental practices to help conserve energy and boost the awareness of its members, as well. The building also gets power from solar panels, and requires all users to power off the machines when they are finished using them. Members are kept cool by energy efficient ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, and the building also uses only recycled paper products and eco-friendly construction materials. Boesel is also trying to spread the message of the Microgym. He has emerged as an expert on the matter, and offers one-on-one consulting with other like-minded individuals interested in setting up their own gyms.

But the Green Microgym is not the only one that has its patrons help power their own workouts. Two other high profile green gyms include the New York Sports Club in Manhattan and California Fitness Gym in Hong Kong, that operate under a similar guiding principle.

The successes of these gyms would lead one to ask, “well, if this technology is so easy to use and has so many benefits, why isn’t it used by every gym?” The answer to that question lies both in economics, and in that the green gym experience may not be for everyone.  

The technology does not produce enough electricity to pay for itself — according to a study by IEEE. The machines generate an estimated $18 worth of electricity per machine per year, so from that standpoint it is not an economically viable option for many large gyms out there. The size of the gym also plays a role in the type of workout members are seeking. The Green Microgym is a small, basic building without a pool, pristine locker room, steam room, or many of the other amenities that large gyms can offer these days. 

“If you want basketball courts and swimming pools and hundreds of different machines…then you should go to a big gym,” Boesel said in an interview with CNN. 

In the end, though, gyms like the Green Microgym in Portland offer a more rewarding — and important — experience. The world won’t see mammoth chain gyms shutting down any time soon, but gyms like these are building green communities and raising people’s awareness about how much energy they are using — and more importantly, how much energy they have the power to save. The amount of attention these gyms are getting, though, is a sign that they are starting to get people talking. The Green Microgym’s website says that Boesel has been contacted by over a thousand people from all over the world interested in greening their own gyms. With progress like this, neighborhood green gyms look to be on the rise, and could soon be appearing in towns and cities all over the world. Be sure to keep an eye out for one near your home, and soon enough you could be sweating your way to saving energy, as well.

Photo Credit: thegreenmicrogym.com/wp-content/gallery/ap-article/007ap.jpg

U.S. Army Plans To Invest $7.1 Billion In Renewable Energy

In an effort to combat rising fuel prices, the U.S. Army has announced plans to invest a substantial amount of money in renewable energy sources. The creation of the new Energy Initiatives Office Task Force will be responsible for developing renewable energy projects for the Army. The task force is a part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and the Environment. The EIO task force is expected to be fully operational by September 15th, at which point the Army will be on its way to creating a more sustainable future for the military.

The creation of a task force designed to focus on renewability will help the Army achieve its goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. The goal of achieving 25% renewable energy by 2025 is a Defense Department goal which was mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007. Additionally, the Army is subject to fines by the Environmental Protection Agency if it fails to meet certain standards. The EPA has dictated that by the beginning of 2013, at least 7.5% of the Army’s power supply must be derived from renewable energy sources.

The task force overseeing the renewable energy projects will be made up of the Army’s own financing and renewable energy experts. Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, has noted that there have been previous “logistical challenges in advancing the projects” the Army has taken on before. With the aid of the task force, the renewable energy projects carried out in a more organized and streamlined fashion.

In addition to protecting itself from the rising cost of fuel, the Army is also committed to achieving energy security. This means that there will always be enough energy available for the Army to continue its missions, even if the civilian power grid is not functioning. Army Secretary John M. McHugh has described the need for energy security for the Army as “operationally necessary, fiscally prudent and vital to mission accomplishment.”

In order to focus on creating sustainable energy sources, the Army plans to invest approximately $7.1 billion in renewable energy projects over the next ten years. An investment of this size is expected to generate 2.1 million megawatt hours of power annually.

Army Secretary McHugh has announced that the Army will partner with the private sector to develop renewable energy projects. According to McHugh, a partnership between the Army and private sector will “serve as a one-stop shop to allow the private sector to come and find opportunities for partnership in a variety of renewable energy and alternative energy programs.” McHugh went on to note that “for the private sector, it’s a guaranteed customer and opportunity to sell excess power to the outside grid.” Furthermore, a partnership between the Army and the private sector will ensure that the Army has access to clean energy that has been produced, which will be procured at a fixed price. Meanwhile, the developer of the clean energy will have the assurance of a guaranteed customer in the Army.

Currently, the Army has 126 renewable energy projects underway. One of the biggest projects is a solar energy project, an installation at Fort Irwin in California that, when completed, will cover the same amount of land as Manhattan.

Investing in renewable energy is a prudent choice for the Army, which is one of the biggest consumers of power in the country. The federal government, the nation’s largest consumer of energy, accounts for approximately 1.5% of the nation’s power usage. The Department of Defense is responsible for 80% of the federal government’s power usage; the Army’s power consumption accounts for 21% of that figure. Investing billions of dollars into hundreds of renewable energy projects is the first step to greening the military.

Photo Credit: epa.gov/region9/annualreport/09/images/CSNellisSolarPanels6.jpg

In 2010, Renewables Saw Record Growth

A new United Nations report shows last year worldwide investments in renewable energy soared to record levels, seeing an increase of 32% since 2009.  Though last year’s growth was concentrated in Asia and Europe, countries around the world are turning away from fossil fuels and embracing renewable energy sources, with wind and solar installations leading the way.  Numbers for the developing world are particularly striking: in 2010, for the first time ever, developing countries invested more in clean energy than industrialized nations.

The report, titled Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011, was prepared for the UN Environment Programme by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  The findings are encouraging, and suggest the renewable energy sector is still doing well even as economies remain incompletely recovered from the 2008 financial meltdown.

“The finance industry is still recovering from the recent financial crisis,” said Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany. “The fact that the industry remains heavily committed to renewables demonstrates its strong belief in the prospects of sustainable energy investments.”

The overall percentage of energy generated from renewable sources also went up in 2010, even as total energy demand in developing countries continues to grow.  8.1% of global energy generation came from renewables in 2010, up from 7.1% in 2009.  Power sources included in this figure include wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy, but not large hydropower projects that are generally considered non-renewable. 

More than 20% of 2010’s renewable energy investments were in China, which put $US 48.9 billion into growing clean energy projects.  Meanwhile in Europe, solar power saw a surge thanks to feed-in tariff policies that allow homeowners who install solar fixtures to sell excess electricity that they generate back to the grid.  India, Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the developing world also saw dramatic gains in renewable energy investment. 

Countries that saw the most growth tend to be those with strong policies to encourage the renewable energy industries or provide incentives for shifting to low-carbon power.  Stimulus money from job creation programs passed after the 2008 financial meltdown helped grow clean industries in many nations, while tax incentives and feed-in tariffs also contributed.  In most countries renewable energy needs such incentives to compete with fossil fuels, which have been heavily subsidized for decades. 

Yet even in nations that lack strong incentives, renewable energy is gaining a foothold.  The United States lacks any comprehensive strategy to supplant fossil fuels with renewables, but early this year renewable sources produced 11.73% of the nation’s energy.  For the first time ever, renewable power now generates more energy in the US than nuclear plants, though it still lags far behind fossil fuels.

New regulations on pollution from coal plants, which the US Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out in response to a Clean Air Act mandate, could make dirty fuels like coal an even less attractive investment, and prompt more companies to turn to renewable energy.  Meanwhile in Australia—a country that, like the US, has been slow to embrace renewable power—a proposed tax on carbon emissions could have a similar effect. 

In total, the world invested US$ 211 billion in renewable energy in the year 2010, money that came mainly from corporations, government entities, and venture capitalists.  At US$ 96 billion, wind energy received the most money, with solar coming in not far behind.  While investments in most other renewables went up, money spent on biomass projects declined—a fact likely to please environmentalists worried about deforestation and other side effects of growing plant material for fuel.

The race is now on to see how much renewable energy will grow in 2011, and which nations will reap most of the benefits.  The results will determine how quickly the world’s countries can make the shift to a cleaner, greener energy future.  

US Senate May Pass Renewable Energy Standard

By: Nick Engelfried 

September 26, 2010

A bi-partisan group of US senators hopes that by the end of this year the Senate can pass a renewable energy standard requiring that utilities get 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2021.  Supporters see the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010 as a way to encourage development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power in the United States.  The bill could also prevent clean tech companies from abandoning the US for friendlier markets in Europe and Asia. 

Though less ambitious than the comprehensive climate legislation environmental groups hoped might pass into law this year, the renewable energy bill would help reduce carbon pollution by pushing utilities toward cleaner energy sources.  It would also be the first major piece of national legislation in the US specifically devoted to making the transition to renewable power sources. 

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the main author of the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, hopes to bring it up for a vote shortly after the November 2nd elections.  To become law, the bill would then have to pass through the US House of Representatives.  Passage in the Senate depends on it attracting enough Republican votes, in addition to the majority of Democrats who are likely to support the renewable energy standard.  So far the bill has four Republican co-sponsors, and Senator Bingaman has said he believes it will draw more soon.

In addition to being strongly supported by environmental groups, the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act also has the backing of the United Steelworkers and advocate organizations for the renewable energy industry.  These groups see the bill as a chance to assure the creation of new jobs in the US renewable electricity sector, growth of which has slowed recently due to a lack of a national policy to encourage clean energy development.    

Nearly half of all US states already have some type of renewable energy standard of their own, requiring major utilities source some percentage of their electricity from renewables by a given year.  Some state standards are much more ambitious than others: while Arizona only aims to generate 15% of its power from renewable sources by 2025, Oregon and Illinois plan to hit 25% by the same year.  This month California increased its state standard to require utilities produce 33% of their power from renewables by the year 2020.  So far California’s is the most ambitious renewable energy standard of any state in the country.

Under Senator Bingaman’s Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, states with stronger renewable energy standards than 15% by 2021 would be allowed to keep their own goals in place.  Thus the national law would mainly affect utilities in states with weak standards or with no renewable energy goals at all.  It would also assure clean tech companies trying to navigate a patchwork of state requirements that the national government of the United States is determined to provide a market for renewable energy. 

Photo Credit: Wayne National Forest