I recently read an article on tidal power (using wave energy to generate electricity) and this got me thinking about other ways of generating power. While I was running, I was thinking of power on a large scale. But, checking my pace, I happened to remember a watch that was powered by the motion of the wearer and this got me thinking of power on a small scale. After my workout, I took a shower and all the ideas sort of blended together as I watched the water run down the drain. The idea was that there seem to be many peripheral (or tiny) ways to generate power.
To be a bit more specific, it struck me that there are all sorts of potential sources of tiny amounts of power that could be used to generate power in the aggregate or perhaps used to help power the very means that was generating the power. For example, water running into a toilet or down a shower drain could turn tiny generators and create a tiny amount of power. This would not be much, but combined with other sources of such tiny power, it could add up to an amount that would make it economically viable. Or perhaps not.
As an example of the second sort, consider a stationary bike. The one I started using during my recovery from quadriceps tendon repair runs on electricity. It uses this power to run the display, but it also provides the necessary resistance via powered magnets (as opposed to the old way of having what amounts to a brake provide resistance). Since I was pedaling away like mad on the bike, it would seem that an electric exercise bike could be made that was powered (at least in part) by this pedaling. Similar things could be done with other exercise devices.
Of course, the obvious question is whether the cost of adding this capability would be worth the cost of doing so. After all, if you had to pay $50 extra for a bike that also had its own generator and it only saved you $5 during its lifetime, then that would have been a bad financial decision. It could also be a bad environmental decision if the impact of making the generator was greater than simply using electricity from the outlet.
Since I live in Florida, I have considered getting solar panels. However, when I priced getting the large panels, I decided that I would just have to live with paying the city for my power. But, I did notice when a neighbor got solar powered lights to line his walkway. Those lights are relatively cheap and this suggests that it would be possible to use solar power in other small ways. I already have an emergency lantern that can charge via a crank or solar panels, so there do seem to be applications for this. In fact, small solar panels for charging laptops and cell phones have been around since the 1990s. However, they do not seem to have really taken off-mostly likely due to cost and the relatively slow charging rates.
It might be possible and viable to use other sorts of tiny power generators that either duplicate large scale systems on a small scale or are new technologies. While I doubt I’ll ever have the extra disposable income to afford such things (funny how eco stuff is so often expensive stuff), I find the idea of peripheral (or tiny) power interesting.
Work out powered generators were your best idea there. It would kill two birds with one stone. More power and less obesity. A smart grid would need to be designed to take advantage of the power. The rest of the ideas may not be viable until greater technology down the road makes it easy enough to manufacture this sort of thing. I could not imagine the cost for toilets that generate a small amount of electricity with a flush. You do realize they have just enough water to get the ‘Baby Ruths’ down the drain and not much more. That does not gain much extra energy to be recovered. More water would butt heads with Conservationists. One interesting technology for making cars more efficient is kinetic power recovery struts. The resistance for generating power would go hand and hand with giving one a smooth ride over the roads. Again, the tech isn’t there yet do to cost and manufacturing but it probably will anyway. By that time we may come up with anti gravity generators anyway and 150000 Megawatt lasers.
An intermediate practical step would be to decide all your mobile gadgets go self-powered. A scenario would be someone with a cellphone, radio, LED lantern, netbook, GPS, and MP3 that they use everyday. You typically need 15 watt-hours of electricity if you use a lot of portable stuff. This can easily be done on a regular bike (not stationary) while you’re riding around town. Fullcharge takes ~5 miles of riding and feels like you clicked up one gear. Checkout rollergen.com
15 Watt-hours seems to be rationing quite a bit. I’m not so sure your average techie would like that.
You should have thousans of tree rats running inside wheels and plugged int the grid.
T. J. Babson says
This is an example of a problem where you’ve got to run the numbers. A realistic analysis can be found here: http://www.withouthotair.com/
While working out the numbers for the left-hand red consumption stack, we debunk several myths. For example, “leaving mobile phone chargers plugged in” is often held up as an example of a behavioural ecocrime, with people who switch their chargers off being praised for “doing their bit.” The truth is that a typical mobile phone charger consumes just
0.01 kWh per day. The amount of energy saved by switching off the phone charger, 0.01 kWh, is exactly the same as the energy used by driving an
average car for one second. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t switch phone chargers off. But don’t be duped by the mantra “every little helps.” Obsessively
switching off the phone-charger is like bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon. Do switch it off, but please be aware how tiny a gesture it is.
I am curious as to whether the phones actually needed a charge or they were just kept plugged into a charger after fully charged. There would definitely be a difference.
There have been a few idea / experiments on with this concept. A few years back a group did a study of recycling the “wind” energy of passing cars on highways.
I also remember hearing about a concept of using the kinetic energy of foot traffic in big cities (I think New York,NY was the place used in the concept) to generate power.
If I remember correctly their are exercise bikes that do use the power generated by your work to power the bike, not 100% certain about that though.
That would be an interesting study with the foot traffic kinetics. They could take a small section and definitely do an experiment. My two biggest questions would be payoff time with the initial investment versus the energy it makes and then maintenance over the long term. The Northeast winters could play havoc with equipment.
I’m sure the bike exists or could be easily done. They would need hardly any electricity if just keeping track of say miles, estimated calorie burn, time and heart rate. That would need about the same power as a watch. If it was a bike that electronically changed difficulty automatically I’m sure it would take more juice.
Michael LaBossiere says
I seem to recall seeing a news blurb on the car powered wind power. Not a bad idea, actually-but I’m not sure how feasible it would be. I have read that there are plans to link electric cars to the grid and that they can dump some of their charge into the system. Of course, it would suck to have a malfunction take place and wake up to find that your car has been drained.
Volvo is working on a diesel hybrid design that uses a small diesel engine as a generator when needed and has the electric motors as part of the wheel assembly. This would get rid of much parasitical drag. The problem is synchronizing the electric motors perfectly as any difference in torque at highway speeds could send you into the ditch very quickly. They are claiming 100 mpg and I do not find that hard to believe. The problem in the US is clean diesel. Yes it does burn cleaner but typically a truck or automobile will use 20%-30% more fuel. Case and point is the Jetta diesel. The older model that ran on regular diesel could get 55-60 highway. The new version using clean diesel gets 37-40 highway. So what is better, saving more natural resources through efficiency or burning up more to curb pollution? The other problem comes when you figure out if burning 20%-30% more diesel that is cleaner actually saves that much on pollution. The Europeans still use regular diesel. There compact cars, turbo diesel non hybrids, get 65 mpg highway. That blows our hybrids out of the water. They are cheaper and easier to maintain also. So in some ways we are cutting our nose off to spite our own face.
Michael LaBossiere says
As I recall, only about 1% of a vehicle’s power is being used to move the driver-the rest is expended in moving the vehicle and “waste.” Interestingly, most vehicles I see have just the driver in them, meaning that we are spending a lot of fuel moving empty space. It would make more sense to have smaller vehicles. Of course, the would probably seem less cool to many folks.
There is, of course, a legitimate need for bigger vehicles but most people do not seem to have that need. I admit that I only rarely use my truck to haul anything that actually requires a truck. But, I’m a truck person. Maybe they will make a nifty mini-truck? 🙂
Ah, freedom of choice, isn’t it nice?