As concerns reach a fever pitch about America’s dependency on foreign oil, a Brazilian prison has tapped into an energy supply that benefits both suppliers and consumers. Inmates at the Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison can ride stationary bikes that have batteries that bank electricity generated by pedaling. The batteries are then taken out of the bikes and used to power six street lights in the city.
The Brazilian judge responsible for the program said he was inspired after reading about American prisons using stationary bikes to power communal TVs. To entice inmates to pedal, the judge has agreed to reduce sentences by one day for every 16 hours pedaled. Currently, there are two bikes at the prison and the plan is to add eight more.
The benefits are twofold: energy produced in an environmentally friendly way and whittled waistlines for detainees. As American prisons burst at the seams with overweight prisoners and city budgets are strained with rising energy costs, prisoners pedaling to contribute to the local energy supply and improve their health sounds like a perfect match.
There are a number of products on the market that utilize pedal-power. Careful what you believe, though. Some products overestimate what riders generally produce. To be realistic, the average person can comfortably produce 150 watts during a comfortable ride, which is enough to charge everyday devices, like smartphones.
Using stationary bikes to produce power on a small scale isn’t exactly a huge money saver since grid power is relatively cheap (about 12 cents per kilowatt hour). But, churning out energy for your personal uses by burning calories — without burning dirty, unsustainable fossil fuels — is an awfully nice idea, isn’t it?
Chelsea is a former newspaper reporter who has spent the past few years teaching English in Poland, Finland and Japan. When she wasn't teaching or writing, Chelsea was traveling Europe and Asia, sampling spicy street food along the way.