Saturday, July 4, 2009

Can kids running around a house power a TV?

I have come across the most out of the box idea for electric power generation. It all started when Lawrence an avid reader of my blog asked me if it was feasible to generate electric power by laying down miles of copper wire on the floor and having kids run around the room with magnets tied to their bodies. On the surface this sounds like a not so bad idea. I estimated each kid could put out about 10 watts of power and could run around for at least two hours so if one had ten kids in the house one could generate enough power for one and half hours of watching a 40 inch LCD TV.

This got me thinking about manpower hours. We have horsepower hours. Eldon another reader of my blog once emailed me that a barrel of oil has the amount of energy that eight men working at full pace eight hours a day would generate in a year. I actually did the calculation and it is estimated that a man working at full tilt is about 8% of a horsepower. Therefore 12 men working in unison is one horsepower. 12 men working for an hour is a horsepower hour. 12 men working 2000 hours a year is 2,000 horsepower hours or 1,500 kilowatt hours. A gallon of oil has about 35 kilowatt hours of stored chemical energy and there are 42 gallons in a barrel, therefore a barrel of oil has approximately 1,477 kilowatt hours of chemical energy. Now that we know 12 men working flat out for a year is a barrel of oil, lets all become couch potatoes because human work, kids running, or hamsters tread-milling will not replace our oil imports.

So what is the most out of the box idea for electric power generation? Well it comes from Chinookville (Canada). These blokes in Quebec believe that one should place windmills aloft in the sky up to one thousand feet above the land. The rationale being that the wind is more constant at this altitude and the dispatchability of electric power would increase from 20% of the time to 50% of the time. Their device is a rotating airship that is tethered to the ground by wires. They have named their airship MARS for the Magenn Air Rotator Systems I have heard of one of the founders of the company as he was previously in the hydrogen fuel cell business. He of course lost his shirt and other investors’ money in the fuel cell effort and is now trying to find the answer blowing in the wind. MARS has raised over ten million dollars so far to commercialize this idea.

My take on the MARS system is that it will never take off so to speak. It is clever but not cost effective. It could be used by ships and the power that is generated could be transmitted via the guide wire back to a ship, but I estimate more energy could be generated if the ship simply had a sail assisting in its propulsion. I have to rename the MARS system to the VENUS system. VENUS = Very Expensive Not Ubiquitous System. I should not knock their idea as at least they are thinking out of the box and there is some chance that the system can find an application here and there but it simply will not do much more to save the planet than having the younger generation run around with magnets tied to them in the hope of capturing some of that seemingly inexhaustible energy.