Getting green fitness equipment from the gym to home

In fitness, it isn’t easy being green — at least when it comes to retail equipment options to sell for use in the home. SNEWS takes a look at the latest sustainable fitness equipment technologies — those that feed power back to the grid — and what it will take for consumers to purchase the products for home use.
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In fitness, it isn’t easy being green — at least when it comes to retail equipment options to sell for use in the home.

Several years after high energy prices spurred businesses and consumers to hop on the “green” bandwagon, fitness equipment manufacturers continue to roll out technologies to save energy and even feed it back to the grid.

So far, the majority of that equipment is geared toward commercial and institutional customers, such as clubs and universities. To be sure, there are plenty of retail fitness products employing and advertising energy savings from home workouts. Some feed back the energy to an iPhone or USB device, but you'd be pressed to find claims that consumers significantly can roll back their household electric bills through the power of the pedal.

The reason, manufacturers told SNEWS, is that unlike at clubs and university fitness centers, there isn’t sufficient volume of equipment use in a home to generate significant amounts of power back to the grid over the course of a year.

“One person, or even one family isn’t going to see a big difference,” said Ken Carpenter, director of sales for SportArt Fitness, which has taken a role in manufacturing green fitness equipment, but only for the commercial market.

Carpenter estimated most households on average work out about two hours a day, which on the latest commercial green technology could produce about 250 watts hours of energy or 91.25 killowatt hours per year, if they worked out every day. Consider that the average U.S. household uses 14,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year, according the U.S. Department of Energy, and a year’s worth of home workouts would represent less than 1 percent (0.65) of total energy use. With the average cost of electricity at $0.135 per kilowatt hour, the annual savings would total about $12.

That’s hardly a convincing story for most consumers — especially given the cost of the technology, and in some cases, additional electrical installation expenses.

It doesn’t mean the green dream is dead for retail fitness equipment. Manufacturers told us that as consumers increase their use of green equipment in clubs, they will increasingly demand the same technology at home.

Figures add up at commercial level

At the club, where hundreds of people are working out all day — in some cases 24/7 — the energy savings from green fitness equipment add up.

Carpenter said SportsArt Fitness began helping clubs reduce eclectic costs several years ago, with its energy-saving Eco-Powr motors. Now the Woodinville, Wash.-based company plans to double the benefit with its Green System (MSRP $3,999), an inverter capable of transferring up to 2,000 watt-hours of energy (during full use) back to a building’s electric grid.

The inverter is designed to work with SportArt’s latest commercial equipment — the g872 elliptical (MSRP$7,499), g572r recumbent cycle (MSRP $4,999), and g572u upright cycle (MSRP $3,999) — maximizing the energy output from the equipment, Carpenter said.

“Whereas with after-market products there’s a two-stage process, and you’re only transferring about 40 percent of the energy from the equipment, we’ve designed this to be a more direct feed, transferring about 75 percent of the energy created,” Carpenter said.

Any number of exercise machines can be connected to the inverter, but Carpenter said between 10 and 20 will be the norm to achieve the 2,000 watt-hour capacity. The average person puts out about 100-150 watt-hours during a workout, he said.

“So if it’s in an Olympic village (with users generating close to 200 watt-hours each), then you might only want to connect 10 machines,” Carpenter said. “But if it’s at an assisted-living gym (where output is likely around 100 watt-hours each) you might want to connect 20 machines.”

Carpenter said a typical club that replaces all of its elliptical and cycles with Green Systems could see savings more than $3,000 a year on its electric bills. SportsArt has an online “Green Savings Calculator” to help gyms determine the possible savings.

Group mentality

Beyond the financial savings, manufacturers told SNEWS the green push is a marketing tool, drawing a growing number environmental-conscious customers looking “to do their part” and feel good about generating power during a workout. That drive is especially prevalent in group settings, such as a gym, said Hudson Harr, president and owner of ReRev. The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company has helped nearly 30 universities and a few clubs retrofit existing equipment to feed power back into the grid.

“It brings each individual user into the larger equation,” Hudson said. “Everyone is contributing.” ReRev makes sure they know that while working out, displaying the gym’s total energy production on flat-screen monitors in the gym.



In an effort to raise awareness to their energy-generating gyms, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University have turned workouts into a competition. During the week leading up to the schools’ annual football game against each other, each university gym tries to outdo their rival in energy generation in what’s known as the Energy Civil War.

Hudson said universities have spent about $12,000 and $15,000 with ReRev to upgrade their gyms. The company currently just retrofits existing equipment, but it is working to develop its own exercise bike, he said.



All-in-one

For these kind of green fitness systems to spread to homes through retail, they will have to be more compact and easy to use, manufacturers said. Seattle-based PlugOut Fitness, formerly ReSource Fitness, is moving in that direction, but is still focusing on the commercial market for the moment, CEO Ryan Barr said.

The company’s power-generating technology, inverter included, is all self-contained within its individual pieces of exercise equipment, including cycles (MSRP $1,199) and cross trainers. The equipment has the additional advantage of plugging into a standard three-prong AC outlet, without the need for electrical work or industrial outlets. A web-connected user interface on the equipment allows users to track their workout online.

Going home

As consumers encounter more green fitness equipment in gyms they will start wanting the same technology in their homes, Barr said. In the way that calories burned is the staple fitness measurement today, watt-hours produced could be the future figure people banter around after a workout, Carpenter said.

Even if the energy returns are minimal from each individual household, the goal for manufacturers and marketers will be to better tell and sell the bigger picture — that if every home were to be feeding back into the grid with their fitness equipment, it could add up to considerable energy savings.

Cities and neighborhoods could compete for the most fitness energy savings, similar to what’s happening at universities today.

“Every little bit helps, but we still have a lot of work to do on the consumer level,” Barr said. “Really what it will comes down to is hitting those price points to compete with other equipment.”

--David Clucas

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