Students are the hamsters, as schools find new ways to go green
As she pedalled an elliptical exercise machine at the University of Oregon, Wen Lee’s face lit up like the light bulbs she was powering.
“I could run my television with this,” the environmental studies graduate student said between breaths, making the three bulbs on the stand in front of her glow brighter as part of a demonstration of renewable people power.
The University of Oregon – one of its school colours is, after all, green – is the latest in a growing number of college campuses and exercise clubs across the country where workouts produce watts.
Splitting the $14,000 cost with the local utility, Eugene Water and Electric Board, the school has retrofitted 20 Precor elliptical machines to generate electricity using technology from ReRev.com of St. Petersburg, Fla. The power from each machine in the Student Recreation Center goes through a converter that turns DC into AC, and a meter to keep track before it flows into the grid.
The amount of electricity produced is small. The university estimates that 3,000 people a day on 20 machines would generate 6,000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power one small energy-efficient house in the Northwest. But it fits in with other sustainability projects, such as solar panels on the rec centre roof, and a high sense of being green among the student body.
“Oh, wow! It’s awesome! That’s cool!” said sophomore Eileen Donnerberg when told the machine she chose for her workout was producing electricity. “I never thought of that. It’s a good thing.”
The machines are even making their way into the run-up to one of the school’s biggest events: the annual Civil War football game with Oregon State University. OSU connected 22 exercise machines to the grid last February and will compete with Oregon to see who can generate the most electricity.
The power is a drop in the bucket compared to the University of Oregon’s overall electricity consumption, which is equivalent to 2,280 houses, said sustainability director Steve Mital.
And Northwest electricity rates are so low it would take 28 years to recoup the investment, but Mital said that isn’t really the point.
“We’re not going to get off Middle Eastern oil by connecting up all the ellipticals all over the country,” said Mital. “We bought it and installed it mostly because it’s an educational opportunity. People will be on those things sweating away and it gets them thinking.”