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Power-Hungry Gyms

Here it is, the new phenomenon: GYMS THAT CHARGE THEMSELVES. 

Sadly, I don't mean the membership fee.... I mean charging your phone kind of charging....

Spring is in full swing (a debatable fact on some recent days in London), and not only are we struggling to decide which clothes to wear in this hot/cold transitional weather - a full legging or a 3/4 length, help!? - but it's that time of year where we're starting to plan for getting a little more skin on show. After the January boom and February lull, gym sign-ups hit another peak as the weather starts getting a little warmer and the first of your friends start whizzing off on holiday, all because we want to get in shape for the season of breezier garments.

However, gyms can be particularly bad for the environment: they use huge amounts of energy. Machines such as treadmills can burn as much energy as leaving fifteen lights on in your house, even while not in use machines on standby use a residual but still collectively significant amount of energy. Pretty much all gyms will have air-con on at the very least a low level, and during peak times, whacked up to the max; speaking of cooling - if your gym has one of those water/energy drink vending machines, it's likely this is using 10x the amount of energy than your fridge at home too. When you add it all up it's pretty power-hungry:

  • Machinery

  • Air-con

  • Vending machines

  • Music

  • TVs

  • Showers

  • Hairdryers

  • Hand-dryers

  • Daily cleaning

The good news however, is that gym operators are increasingly looking at new technologies to reduce their footprint - whether this is to reduce energy expenditure, or to have a reduced impact on the environment or both is irrelevant. 

Now this is where you will have your mind blown:

There are actual gyms now where your workout is powering the machine you're working on! (Image of a hamster frantically running in a wheel springs to mind).

Whilst gym's are a little late to the party, as building owners have been doing some of these things for years now, there's some really great technologies in the pipeline:

  • Using heat from the gym to heat water for the showers

  • Intelligent ventilation systems that detect and adjust air-con based on the environment, meaning you haven't got to have a member of staff actively change a thermostat

  • Automatic taps and efficient showers to reduce water usage

But it's the less obvious solutions that are more interesting to sustainability geeks like me:

  • Gyms that harness the energy of your workouts to power the building

  • Treadmills that use 30% less energy and generate enough energy to power their own information screens

  • Spinning bikes that convert the motion of the wheels into electricity to power the gym

I can see you wondering how that might work - well, the technology works using a dynamo (which to drill down again is typically a copper wire rotating in a magnetic field) and the dynamo is powered up as you begin to move, it's all so simple really... although, for all further queries, please refer to Technogym and their "ARTIS" range of products. 

To be realistic, this technology faces major hurdles before it can go fully mainstream, the economics aren't currently appealing with costs for a set of machines being in the £100ks and unless you're Lance Armstrong your spin-bike isn't going to power Britain, BUT Virgin Active have taken them on in some gyms, and Chelsea Health Club in London has installed a state-of-the-art fitness room with them so here's hoping the trend spreads!

By Rebecca Dallimore

Rebecca is a self-confessed environmental nerd, experimental seamstress, photography fiend and burger junkie. With a background in environmental management and nearly 5 years working in international sustainability she has an abundance of knowledge in both personal and business sustainability initiatives.

Rebecca is also author of Sustainability Sunday  an addictive, inspirational, eco-living blog: rebeccaldallimore.wordpress.com.

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