Human Powered Generators: Cheap and Easy Renewable Energy

Reader Contribution by Michelle Martin
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Human-powered generators cleverly derive electricity from something we already use in abundance — human movement — offering an easy way to tap renewable energy for anyone interested in a low-impact lifestyle. In the past, a few dedicated individuals have used contraptions like bicycle generators to help power their homes, while campers and disaster-ridden populations have long depended upon hand-crank appliances, like radios. These contraptions convert the force of human motion into renewable energy, which in turn powers your appliances. Capturing this free and abundant power source for electricity continues to become increasingly streamlined and efficient with time. Here are a few creative ways others have turned everyday movement into energy powerhouses.

Children’s Playtime Energy Powers Gadgets

Every day 200 schoolchildren in Essam, Ghana spin around their favorite toy, a merry-go-round, as they simultaneously light up their school building’s LED bulbs. Empower Playgrounds develops playground equipment that converts the energy of children’s play into electricity for rural African villages. In 2008 the non-profit sponsored students from Brigham Young University to help Ghanaians

install the merry-go-round, constructed with recycled car parts available within Ghana. In fact, the merry-go-round was designed for Ghanaians to assemble it easily in the future, with materials already abundant. Turning the structure at 12 revolutions per minute creates power to store in car batteries, which powers the LED lights inside the building. The lights can run for 50 hours without needing another boost. Empower Playgrounds has constructed nine merry-go-rounds in Ghana, alongside a swing set. A zip line is in progress.

A few adventurous individuals have taken the idea a step closer to home by making their own motion generating swing sets.

And if you’re tired of replacing batteries for your children’s toys, SONY sells a line of motion-powered toys for children called ODO, which includes video and still picture cameras and headphones. These gadgets, created with recycled materials or Bioplastic, power themselves with simple actions like cranks or buttons.

Human Power Revolving Door Powers Train Station

Consider every object you move in a day — every door you push through, every button you press, and every time you turn the steering wheel. What if you captured all of the energy that you routinely spend and turned it into electricity?

Boon Edam, a revolving door and turnstile manufacturer, wondered the same thing. Thus, the company developed a revolving door that generates electricity from the commuters who push through it every day. The first one, created in 2008, beckons customers into the Driebergen-Zeist train station in the Netherlands. The energy generated by the door (approximately 2.5 times greater than the energy usage of the average European), powers the LED lights in the ceiling, which can switch to an alternative energy supply in case too few passengers travel through the door.

Boon Edam claims that the energy conserved by their revolving doors worldwide has exceeded 735,000 kWh to date, more than the small island of Monhegan uses in two years. That translates into a reduction of  over 730,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. 

Photos courtesy of Brigham Young University and Boon Edam