Vancouver Island fitness centre harnesses human power


'It's kind of exciting to think about customers energizing the place, literally'

A fitness centre on Vancouver Island is using energy generated by human beings to help keep the lights on. It may sound futuristic, like a scene from the Matrix, but this is real life.

Valley Health and Fitness in Cobble Hill brought in the cutting edge exercise machines a couple of months ago. When a client works out on a bike, a display box on the machine shows how much energy they're producing. An inverter then harnesses the power generated by human pedaling and redirects it to the power grid within the fitness centre.

"It's kind of exciting to think about customers energizing the place, literally," says Forrest Verbruggen, manager and co-owner of the centre. "Everyone feels good knowing they're part of an innovative way of going green while at the same time getting fit."

The new machines are another example of the company's ongoing commitment to reducing energy consumption and protecting the environment. Last year, the business upgraded its lighting with incentives from BC Hydro's retrofit lighting program. That step has already proven a worthwhile economic move, reducing monthly electricity bills.

It's too early to say how much the new cardio machines will save Valley Health and Fitness but the potential is there for hundreds of dollars in savings each month. That was enough to convince Verbruggen and his partners to invest in the new technology.

"Even more gratifying, though, is watching customers react to the new machines. Many now choose these machines over others," he says.

Customers can see how much they're generating

Customers can choose from seven machines, three ellipticals and four different styles of bikes. Each machine can generate up to 230 watts of energy.

The machines are connected to the inverter which recycles the energy, handling a maximum of 2,000 watts at any one time. "Clients can view how much energy they're generating on a big screen TV and they seem to like that," said Verbruggen.

"It is interesting to watch the monitor that tells how much energy you are generating because it takes real work to generate very much, but when there are several people using the machines at once, the tally goes up quickly," comments one customer who prefers the new machines.

Customers are also happy the machines are linked to a points program. As they generate energy that can be used by Valley Health And Fitness, they are awarded points that can be traded in at the gym for various products.

"Knowing that any extra energy I produce goes back into the [internal] grid and that I will be rewarded for it actually makes me work out harder," says customer Richard Cmajdalka.

The creator of the energy-saving gym equipment, SportsArt Fitness, was recognized for its innovation with a nomination earlier this year at FIBO, an international trade show for fitness and health in Germany.

Meanwhile, the machines are definitely winning fans at Valley Health and Fitness. Says customer Howard Barnes, "I am always heartened to see businesses and individuals who take an initiative to be at the vanguard of the sustainability movement."