How Many Morons on Treadmills Would it Take to Power a Small City?

Unemployment is high, and despite out best efforts, ignorance still abounds. So if we decided to take those vast reserves of untapped stupidity and had them make electricity, how much could you get?

A single person can put out more than a horsepower, but that’s in a short burst. If you spent your day on something like one of those exercise bicycles with the handles, so that arm and leg strength was being harnessed, how much juice could you continuously produce? With current electricity prices, how far would you be below minimum wage?

Assume the day is broken up into blocks of time with breaks, for a total exercsie time of 6 hours per shift.

It takes roughly 160W to pedal a bike at 12mph. When recreational cyclists go on bike tours, 60 miles per day is a typical distance. So that’s 800 watt-hours (0.8 kWh) per day. IIRC that’s about 5 cents in the US.

The question I have, though, is whether this is even a good idea from a purely economic efficiency standpoint. How much energy can we harness from these people as compared to the energy needed to grow the foods that feed them?

I get charged about 14 cents/kWh in NYC.

Ack, I just realized that maybe the OP’s point is that since these unemployed people are just sitting around – and needing to consume food – anyway, then why not put them to work generating electricity. Then, I suppose, my question becomes how much additional food these people will now consume because of the exercise, versus the energy we can get out of them.

D’oh. Went to my favorite units converter and punched 2000 kilocalories into the Energy page. 2000 kilocalories is what the RDA is based on for food labels, so I thought it’d be a good start. Anyway, if a human was capable of converting food energy directly into electricity, like The Matrix or something, they would produce 2.326 kilowatt hours or 3.119 horsepower hours.

Not a whole heck of a lot.

Well, I’m going to be another one of those “Huh huh…I misread the thread title…huh huh” people and say that I saw this as “How many Mormons on Treadmills…”

That answers the OP, but what about the thread title? How many would we need to power a small city?

Using scr4’s numbers and the numbers found here, we find it would take 36 morons to power a household of four. For a city of 112,000, that’s one million morons.

What makes you assume that the morons are unemployed? From what I’ve seen, most of them hold management positions.

And the trick isn’t how much power you can get out of them, but rather, how can you insure they all stay pointed the right way on the track? Morons. Can’t live with them, can’t turn them into biomechanical energy extraction devices…

How about all those people who ride excersize bikes anyway?

I am not sure I see the connection between stupidity and unemployment, can you elaborate?

And in a net metering state like CA…hmmm little wiring, little welding…HA! Free power!!! I wonder if CA would pay for 50% of the bike as an “alternative energy” source like they do with solar panels.

That’s great–they could offer health-club discounts based on how much your workout contributed to reducing the gym’s electricity bill. (Granted, probably only about a buck a year, but…)

Ha! Glad to that this is being taken semi-seriously! Here’s another question: How much body heat would all those pedaling morons generate? I know that in large enclosed stadiums, they often don’t install many heaters since the body heat by the crowd is such that they need to cool the air down, rather than heat it. So if you’ve got a million morons in a large building, all pedaling furiously on their excercise bikes (This might violate labor laws, but have TVs mounted in front of the bikes that play educational programming when the rider stops [after all, many of these morons are happy to be stupid, so to them, educational programming would be torture :D], when they pedal, the TVs shut off.), they’re going to be giving off a tremendous amount of heat. Anyway this could be tapped into for power?

Generate HEAT: yes, generate ELECTRICITY: Its about as smart as using flashlights to power solar panels.

Epimetheus, when I first proposed this in another thread, it was suggested as way to keep morons employed without clogging up important jobs. So I came up with the idea because morons aren’t all unemployed. I wanted to make room for competent people in “real” jobs. Of course, it was largely a joke, since even if there were such employment available to morons, that wouldn’t stop companies from hiring them for jobs they’re unqualified for.

Unfortunately, it looks like human-generated electricity is not efficient enough to be a viable energy source. We’d probably be better off feeding the morons lots of beans and collecting the resulting methane. Needless to say, this would not be pretty. Still, maybe someone would like to run the numbers on that too, just for “fun”.

It’s true that heat is used to generate electricity: fuel is burnt to heat water, and the rising steam turns a turbine connected to a magnet. The turning magnet induces an electric current in a wire, thereby producing electricity. (I’m working from memory here, so please correct me if I have some of the terminology wrong.) Obviously, however, a group of exercising humans wouldn’t be able to heat a room anywhere near the boiling point, and even if they could, it would kill them. Or would there be an energy-efficient way to concentrate the heat energy into a small volume, so that the energy it took to do that would be less than the energy gained? That wouldn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics, would it, since there’s already a difference in temperature with the outside air? I dunno; someone fill me in on the specifics there.

Maybe it would be best just to use them to heat buildings in winter instead.

I’m not sure it would be a good idea to blow a fan across the bodies of hundreds of sweating cyclists to transfer their body heat to other parts of the building.

That 2000 kilocalories I mentioned is all the energy a human uses in a day, which would include the heat they create. Harnessing that heat as well as the motion would increase the efficiency, but they still wouldn’t be producing more than 2.326 kWh. That also converts to 7900 and some BTUs.

  1. A person bicycling for 6 hours a day is going to burn up more than 2000 Calories per day. Depending on various factors, the consumption could be anywhere from 2 to 4 times that figure. But yes, a lot of it will be converted to unusable waste heat.

  2. As far as moron employment, if you believe certain Canadians, some of them are elected to high government position. But this is the wrong forum for that kind of discussion. I’m sure a moderator will be along shortly to slap my hand for bringing it up.