Sunday, 4 March 2007

People power - why not?

While You're at It, Why Not Generate A Little Electricity, in the Wall Street Journal, introduces some people who want to harvest human energy. It's an attractive if somewhat kooky idea that conjures up images of the matrix and what to do with our prison population, immigrants, and other social annoyances. However, when you think of the amount of energy people use at the gym, on the sports field, at night clubs - it makes sense to try and harness it.

An extreme sporty Californian persuaded an international fitness club outfit to run an experiment in a gym in Hong Kong. Cost is high and returns are low - less than 200 dollars a year for an investment of 15,000. Enviu, a group of young Dutch environmentalists, have built a dance floor that powers its own internal lighting. Here the price tag is 26K, for some measly floor lights - hmm.

But hey - what does a dance floor normally cost to build and what are the future plans? The WSJ article belittles these projects by presenting scant figures with a distinct bias - I don't think it's fair to judge these projects in simple terms of ROI - looked at as proofs of concept where valuable lessons are learned, these projects are pretty damn cheap.

And the WSJ piece also neglects to mention that the project is finished and the world's first sustainable nightclub opened to the public in Rotterdam, in October 2006.

These are small steps but, as the Enviu people say, part of the value is in making sustainability sexy and cool, not just a geeky, hippy thing. While people power is unlikely to solve all our energy needs, it can help reduce the requirement for non-sustainable resources while increasing our awareness of the direct relationship between energy and consumption.

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