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Cycling for energy

The bicycle as a lever to gain access to electricity.

by Amanda Saint
08 April 2020
5 min read
byAmanda Saint
08 April 2020
5 min read

Creating your own energy at home using a specially designed bike used to be the stuff of science fiction, but it's fast becoming a reality. There are, in fact, bikes that are being used to create electricity for powering events, art installations, and in some cases even entire villages. These power generating bikes could one day be used in our homes and businesses to provide energy for the gadgets and appliances we use in our everyday lives.

Powering appliances

Direct pedal power to appliances is already a reality. A UK social enterprise company, Reaction Bike-Power, provides a range of appliances for events that come with bikes that power them. Among their pedal-powered offerings: DJ turntables and sound systems; cinemas, TVs and computer monitors; and stage lighting, room lights, Christmas tree lights and more. The electricity-generating bikes used to power these appliances are stationary with the back wheel raised off the ground and either connected to a dynamo, which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, or directly into the appliance that needs the electricity.

Currently, the use of these bikes to provide power has to be closely monitored to ensure that the right speed is maintained to output the right amount of electricity. The system is not yet capable of storing the power for later use. In order to keep the appliances running, cyclists must pedal the entire time. Because energy awareness is a big driver of this social enterprise, Reaction Bike-Power has made educational events with UK businesses a priority. Here, the bikes are used to demonstrate the amount of power needed to run various appliances. The tactic has been a highly effective way of inspiring businesses to change their approach to power use and work toward boosting their energy efficiency.

People power

Another UK company, Electric Pedals, has been doing very similar work, and it was also the catalyst behind an experiment called, "Human Power Station." Here, a family went about their usual lives while a team of cyclists were made to pedal frantically to provide the power needed to sustain their usage.

The experiment was televised in a BBC programme, "Bang Goes the Theory," to shine a spotlight on just how much power we consume in our homes without even thinking about it. In order to keep the lights on, and all the gadgets and appliances within our homes and businesses working, we would potentially need to do a lot of cycling if we used the Electric Pedals bikes to power them. But there is a new invention that can provide enough electricity to power up low energy homes.

Hans Free Electric

An Indian inventor, Manoj Bhargava, has created a new exercise bike, the Hans Free Electric™, which can power rural village homes in India for 24 hours with just one hour of pedalling from each household. The Hans Free Electric bike was invented as part of an initiative to bring electricity to places in rural India that have frequent power outages or limited access to power. More than half of the world's population is without access to reliable electricity supplies, so its inventor, hopes the bike can help provide power to these people. A bike being pedalled for one hour a day by each household in a small rural community would provide enough electricity for the entire village to have light and internet access, which Bhargava believes will be transformative in helping developing nations lift people out of poverty. How does this work when the others above take so much pedalling?

Because these villages make very limited energy demands and the electricity is only needed to power energy efficient lighting, a computer and a modem, the amount of kilowatts that the villagers need to create is small. In contrast, the power-hungrier homes of the developed world have large appliances and electronic gadgets that need feeding. So the amount of electricity generated by Hans-Free Electric cycling for an hour wouldn't be enough to keep everything going, but it could be used to lower energy bills, provide cleaner energy and help tackle the obesity issue of many countries.

Bhargava is a billionaire philanthropist who is also the founder of the Billions in Change movement, which is focused on delivering the inventions needed to help people realise their potential. He has pledged almost his entire wealth to inventing and donating solutions that will provide free, clean energy, clean water, and sufficient food so that people's basic needs are met so they can concentrate on improving life for themselves and their families. The Hans Free Electric bike is just one element of this—one that can help billions of people across the world access green power. An invention that can help ensure that the developing word doesn't have to rely on energy from fossil fuels.

So while pedal-power can't yet take over from the more traditional forms of energy that our homes and businesses rely on, it can bring power to places that don't have it. It can also help us to understand how we use power to make us think more carefully about being more energy efficient, which is an important tool in helping to make us more sustainable.