Free electricity. Want some?
Fossil fuels are running out. Nuclear fission produces nuclear waste and the holy grail of fusion is still beyond our grasp. Wind, waves, solar and geothermal do a little but not nearly enough for most of us. So here’s the solution - People. That’s right, you and me. My family lived in a house where the doorbell was an actual brass bell. It worked brilliantly, never needed batteries and may well outlast the house. Everyone loved it. I have a wind-up radio that can charge my mobile phone. In some countries if you have solar panels or small wind generators for your house you can pipe excess electricity back into the national grid and reduce your bill. But the capital costs of these generators are high and they wouldn’t do much for most city dwellers.
So... you know those stationary bikes at the gym? Imagine this: you have a stationary bike in your apartment that is connected to the national grid. You can exercise and have cheap or free electricity or you can do nothing and pay. Your choice. Electricity would be expensive for most but subsidised for the elderly and infirm. Teenage obesity would phase out – not only would the kids generate a little electricity as one of their chores but there would be a minor industry offering to generate $100 of electricity for $60 cash etc. “You want to borrow the car son? Well it’s an electric car so you’d better get on and charge it.” Do you go to a gym? Bit pricey aren’t they? Imagine if they paid you. Do enough on the bikes, treadmills, cross trainers and rowing machines and get everything else for free. Now there’s an idea.
Now, I realise that one stationary bike isn’t going to give completely free electricity for a family of 4 (although it might for a single apartment dweller). What I’m aiming at is to change people’s attitude to their power consumption. Once you make manual generation widely available, we’ll see solar or wind-up phone and ipod chargers become normal rather than the niche market they are now. More technology will follow as demand drives development. It’s about ownership and responsibility. Power to the People.
Households everywhere would take less from the grid. That lets us stretch fossil fuels a little further and buys us more time to come up with a better plan. Since we draw less, the proportion contributed by renewables (wind, solar etc) becomes more significant and that will help drive development in those areas. And then there’s the health angle. Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and even depression have been linked to a sedentary lifestyle. The US alone spends $150 billion dollars each year treating medical conditions attributable to obesity. Stationary bikes. Two birds, one stone. Tell me I’m wrong.