(electric) Power to the People

After seeing articles and videos about this invention in the social media for a few months now it finally managed to catch my complete interest. It did sound too good to be true, but I was still intrigued enough to think that this was a fabulous idea! Completely free energy, and in addition it is one hundred percent clean! Power your home and do exercise at the same time sounds like a great way of saving up to two hundred dollars per month. I actually wanted one, it would be so practical to have here up in the cold Norwegian winters.

Silly me

But I was naive, thinking this could work. It could not possibly be able to generate enough electricity to power water-heaters and washing machines, right? I am sure it would give me a good workout if it was able to do that. But I don’t have that kind of power in my legs or the endurance to even imagine this being possible. I would have to bike all day just to power my computer screens and charge my phone and tablet!

The product does charge the gadgets, but only as long as they are few
The product does charge the gadgets, but only as long as they are few

When I viewed the videos of this invention (sorry, they are now apparently removed) I did notice that while pedalling the alternator generated around 10 amps in 12 volts. Basic calculations will prove that this is somewhere around 120 Watt per hour. So if you pedal for one hour you will be able to use 120W for one hour, or distribute it over the day. But I know that even my computer uses more electricity than that (with active use, of course – not while idling or sleeping). To cover my entire electricity bill of around 20 thousand kWh each year I would have to pedal for more than 400 hours each day. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible.

Some quick calculations indicate that I (me and my wife) use 2250W on average. So I could maybe hook the bike up to a 2250 watt alternator instead and create enough electricity that way? Not possible either, that is a lot more energy than any of us would be comfortable with creating.

Not for Norwegians

I felt silly after actually understanding the invention and when realising it was for rural people in India, not for people in the western society and certainly not for those of us that live way up north. It’s intended to be a way of giving access to electricity for those who live a long way from the grid. And by doing some (healthy) workout they would be able to charge their gadgets and power a few lights throughout the dark evenings. With not street-lights I can imagine it gets pretty dark in the evenings, so it could be a welcoming solutions to many of their electrical challenges. The poorer people without jobs or income could also be able to have this kind of “luxury” too, only by using their muscles for an hour each day. But could they really?

While he doesn’t intend to give the bike away, he’d prefer to incentivise distributors with profits. He says a village can also pool its resources, buying one bike but multiple batteries that can be swapped out to power individual homes.

It depends. Mostly it depends on the price of this machine. The inventor is a rich Indian living in the US, and say that he has been helping out by providing money and resources but now see this as a better way of helping. That’s great! “Teach a man to fish” and all that. Giving away these bicycles instead of money is a better way of helping, for sure. But no, it was too good to be true also. He is trying to get profits from his investment, and he won’t be giving it away for free. I have not found a definitive price, but seen indications/speculations to it costing a few hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money for someone already struggling to make enough just for food. The inventor himself suggests that people who cannot afford one for themselves instead join together to buy one for sharing and charge their batteries on turn. That means 24 people could join in then, if almost half of them don’t mind working out when the others are sleeping…

A very expensive product for its use, and might not be the best for those who are the intended customers

Lets be optimistic

Well… I am sure this would be an awesome solution to rural India if the UN or Red Cross gave away thousands of these to people in need, and I am sure it would be an even more awesome product if it came with a “hulk on steroids” that could pedal its legs off for 24 hours a day 365 days a year without needing any food (or extra steroids). But that’s probably a little too optimistic, right? I think the truth is that this was an attempt to camouflage a typical commercial product as something charitable. Such a camouflage could provide great advertising effects, for sure. Maybe he is hoping that some wealthy organisation will buy them to give away?

An ok design, although it looks like a wheelchair
An ok design, although it looks like a wheelchair

But, of course: I don’t blame anyone for trying to make a living through creating products intended to help people in need, or contribute towards a solution of our environmental challenges. In this commercial world it is impossible to escape the need to make money, and even in a society were we didn’t deal in money there would be some other way of measuring everyone’s contribution towards the total. After all, money is just an “I owe you” that replaced the bartering of goods (they required less space and was able to carry around) – but that a whole other discussion and possible article.

So, for now let’s keep it simple and free: Thanks for reading! I hope you got something out of it, even when “debunking” and challenging alleged charity around us.

By the way, here’s an interview from CNBC

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And some people creating electricity by bicycling

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By |2018-03-12T11:18:29+02:00April 1st, 2016|Categories: Longread, Opinion|Tags: , |

About the Author:

Inventor through instinct | Born curious, fascinated by natural complexity - and technology | Natural problem-solver | Inherent need to Create | Perceptual | A creative soul, fundamentally Artistic | Headstrong, mostly | Idealistic, knowingly Dreamy | Engineer, Entrepreneur | Thorough, Responsible, Careful | Concerned