Human Powered Electricity for Off-Grid Living

Getting electricity to your off-grid place is probably one of the most challenging things you will encounter when attempting to live a self-sustaining independent life. Let's face it for a lot of people solar panels cost too much money, they don't have running water on their property, propane and kerosene cost money and wind power is not reliable so what is an off-gridder to do? Well, one thing we have plenty of in this country is human power or ...CALORIES!

There are many instances when alternative methods fail to live up to our expectations, either they are too expensive, unreliable, difficult to build and maintain or unavailable. Human powered inventions have none of those pitfalls. They are cheap, simple to make, reliable and portable!

People have been using human powered machines for a very long time. Some of the first inventions were used to crush grain and seeds, transport people and things and pump water. Later people invented looms to make fabric and human-powered catapults were used to erect those fabulous cathedrals throughout Europe. However, since the advent of cheap electricity the human-powered inventions seem to have all but stopped. So instead of using our labor to create things we flip a switch..and what do we have for all our efforts? We have an overweight population that is completely and utterly dependent on fossil fuels that pollute our environment and cause us to be dependent on foreign oil for every contraption known to man!

But, you might say..I've never heard of human-powered electricity or appliances..what are they?

Human-powered electricity is electricity that is generated through either hand-cranked, peddled or treadled power. It can be done by almost anyone who can walk including children. They even have children's playgrounds in Africa that include spinning wheels, see-saws and swings that when used either generate electricity or pump water while the children play with them! Here is a list of just some human-powered appliances:


blender

generator-

water pump

washing machine

radio

lights

shavers

seed press

grain mills

TV's

saws

lathes

Really any appliance can be powered by human-power if you have a generator and unlike most other alternative energy sources you can take your human-powered generator with you if you need to move. Also, one can use a human-powered generator in an apartment or a rented home, unlike solar panels or a windmill. They are also very easy to make as all of the parts can be obtained at your local hardware store or..garage sale.

So how much electricity can one generate using a human-powered medium? An average person peddling for an hour would generate 75 watts however, someone who is in Olympic shape could generate over 200 watts. That means a family of four using a human-powered medium could generate about 300 or more watts. This would allow you to light a room for few hours or more depending on the type of light bulb used, power up a laptop or T.V. or pump water into your home. In other words, you will not have huge loads of electricity to waste but it would be enough for the most important tasks.

Moreover, a family could combine the use of a human-powered generator with a few other human-powered appliances that work directly to turn, blend or pump anything that might need turning, cranking or pumping. If one is conservative this combination would be more than enough to power a whole household! Some mechanically driven appliances that might work more efficiently by using direct human-power would be items like a washing machine, a can opener, a mixer or a loom. The amount of calories expended directly for certain items like these would be less than pedaling a human-powered generator and then plugging the appliance in. However, other items would be less efficient, so each item would have to be evaluated individually in order to determine the best tool.

Human-powered machines are the best course of action for those who have little money and yet yearn to go off the grid. So many people would like to go off the grid but when they research the cost of alternative energy sources they become discouraged and usually shelve the dream as unattainable. Additionally, with the recent interest in off-grid living human-powered tools are making a come-back and consequently there are new inventions being created every day. One place that has a plethora of great products is Lehman's Amish Hardware store in Ohio. They also have catalogs that your can order from in case you don't live in Ohio.

I hope this article gives you hope to keep dreaming and eventually make your off-grid dreams come true.

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Comments 29 comments

A Little TRUTH profile image

A Little TRUTH 4 years ago

Interesting. I think that these pedal or crank generators is a good learning experience for children. Helps them to relate how much power is in the electricity - and that it does relate to human power - and how much power is wasted due to inefficiency.

For example, according to your chart, two people pedaling can run a can opener - as long as they both pedal for as long as it takes to open the can. But why not just use a hand can opener - one person, one hand, just as fast, a lot less work!

Yes, people are crazy. They buy things like snow blowers, and then drive to the gym to push on weight machines - and pay for it all. Why not just push on a $10.00 snow shovel?

By the way, you might want to correct your use of the word "watts". A watt already contains time in the denominator (joules/second) so talking about Watts PER HOUR doesn't really make sense, unless you are talking about rate of change of power such as how fast a machine ramps up to full power. a watt is unit of power, just like horsepower.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for commenting "A Little Truth", I did mention that sometimes it's better to use human powered appliances that directly move, turn or activate a machine but there are other times when it's more efficient or convenient to use a human powered generator. And thanks for correcting me regarding the error of the watt. I will fix that.


Satori profile image

Satori 4 years ago from California

+1 for combining generation with fitness plans. People would be making fitness plans as their New Year's Resolutions, and they'd actually stick to them!

As for alternative forms of energy, I just encountered HHO technology a little bit ago. Have a look! (http://youtu.be/B3r4sWf69t0) Combine it with a Stirling engine ( http://youtu.be/PsvyO9chvS0 ) and you can power a generator on just water! Isn't that wild?

Be well,

- Satori


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks Satori..but the first link doesn't work...and wouldn't you also need fire since the second video only works with the candle.


Satori profile image

Satori 4 years ago from California

Ah, here we are. You need spaces between the link and the parentheses, or else they'll both get interpreted together.

http://youtu.be/B3r4sWf69t0

Technically you would need fire as well, yes, but that's what the water is for.

So when you separate water you get a gaseous mixture of hydrogen, which combusts well, and oxygen, which helps things combust. So you light that under the Stirling engine, it moves, and the engine can turn a magnet past copper coils. Hey presto, it's power from water.

You can connect the electricity to separate the water from then on, and you're not getting more than you put into it because you're losing water in the process. If you need more electricity, you'd make it bigger and use up more water. So you could power a house off the grid using a stream.

Here's the device he's using ( http://bit.ly/zE214t ), and it's easy enough that people can even make it themselves.

Be well,

- Satori


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

I think it surpasses my abilities. Why don't you make them and sell them?


Satori profile image

Satori 4 years ago from California

Better yet. Since that's what they do, I just e-mailed them and showed them how to install an Affiliate program into their website.

So people like us can write about them and make a bit on the side as well.

Be well,

- Satori


eye say profile image

eye say 4 years ago from Canada

this has been top of mind lately, great timing and great info, thanks for sharing

and Satori thanks for the water generator info as well,


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks Eye Say; feel free to repost on your facebook page.


albert 4 years ago

this engine runs off of the fire not the water. it would be nice to have stream of cold water run past everyones house but you still need to keep a fire going indefinitely if you want to use this. burning wood or coal puts out CO2 so you're better off using the electricity from the wall. I say this based off the assumption that you are interested in helping the environment rather than trying to save your self a few bucks a month. firewood is expensive. also how much power does it give? if you put a load on it (e.i. use it for something) will it still turn at a speed that makes it usable?


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Right Albert, I still think that human power is the best way to go if you are short on cash.


A Little TRUTH profile image

A Little TRUTH 4 years ago

Hey Satori, Interesting concept! And that’s a nice little HHO generator in the link, I believe it could make a good mpg booster for a car.

But I didn’t see a product that combines a Sterling engine with an HHO generator. Conventional science (the first law of thermodynamics) would say that the fuel produced by the HHO generator would not be enough to keep the Sterling engine going fast enough to produce enough electricity to make enough HHO to power the Sterling ... let alone have some electricity left over. The system would be starting with water, splitting it to HHO, and then burning the HHO to form water (vapor) again (the product of combustion of HHO). But then, conventional science is limited to what THEY want us to know. So if somebody is successfully doing this, and has a kit or plans, it would be interesting.

Brie, albert, re. your comments about a fire or candle being needed: A Sterling engine doesn’t necessarily need a flame, it just needs a temperature difference. If you skip the HHO generator, and drill two wells of different depths to get the temperature difference, you essentially have a conventional geothermal power plant. This is a FREE ENERGY system that has been in use for about 100 years. Hey, that would be a good hub Brie: Answer, or at least raise the question, as to why the US generates less than 1% of its electricity from geothermal energy, whereas other nations that are far less advanced along the road to a complete police state, generate 20% to 30% from geothermal.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Well, "A Little Truth" I think we all know the answer to that question!


Satori profile image

Satori 4 years ago from California

A Little TRUTH,

While I don't fully understand all the science behind it, what I've been reading is that the HHO generator shown actually /is/ efficient enough to do it, given how the capacitive plates are designed. Rather than getting less energy for the HHO process, the system uses more water instead. What we keep hearing is that the system does not have the efficiency needed to do this, and people who are using this HHO generator are disputing that. When I get some cash it would be neat to try it and confirm one way or the other. Since most people don't actually do it, the controversy goes back and forth online and most people are inclined to go with what seems like more conventional thought.

To my knowledge there isn't a product that combines the HHO generator to a Sterling engine... yet. What projects like RepRap are doing is making collaborative open-source hardware development, rather than just software development, possible in online communities. So developing this sort of product is becoming more feasible now, and making people aware of what HHO is starting to do seems important to enable that to happen.

Be well,

- Satori


A Little TRUTH profile image

A Little TRUTH 4 years ago

Satori, yes, I agree we need to try it instead of talking about it – but that will have to wait till I get my lab set up! I think it’ll be more promising to tap the zero point energy, or aetheric energy, than trying to do something with electrolysis.

Havn’t heard of RepRap, so I looked it up. Seems they are about 3D printing, or Stereolithography. I’m familiar with this, we used it back in the 80’s to make models of prototype parts. It’s an interesting technology because, as it progresses, it has the potential to be similar to the “replicator” in Star Trek!


Satori profile image

Satori 4 years ago from California

TRUTH, yes it's a rapid prototyping machine, a 3D printer. Commercial prototypers go for around $42,000. Two guys designed one that uses your computer's USB connection, costs $1,000, and can print most of the parts necessary to make a copy of itself. The new ones can print in not just plastic but metal too (think basic circuitry), and they're working on a recycler unit to allow you to use bottles and cans as raw material.

Google has said of them, "Think of them as China on your desktop."

Can't wait to download a torrent file for a watch or a piece of furniture.

Be well,

- Satori


A Little TRUTH profile image

A Little TRUTH 4 years ago

Satori, downloading torrent files for consumer items - yes that’ll help put the bankers out of business!

Using bottles and cans as raw material? - as I recall, the Enterprise used the ship’s garbage - we’re getting there faster than I thought.


I Am Rosa profile image

I Am Rosa 4 years ago from Canada

Cool hub! Hope you don't mind - I linked to this in my hub: Preparing to Survive a Zombie Outbreak.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Not at all, I love links! Link away! Thanks


jason crowther 4 years ago

i've used a rowing ergometer to generaote 46,600+ watts in a 40-minute setting. i'd wager--after weerks or monthes of usage, i'd generate enough powerto sell back, to the grid , enough powe to make my income worth thousands of dollars! being disbled, my benifit-income is low enough tobe tripled--if not quadrupled--by selling this powerback to the grid; added to that would be the rebate paid by the government. i can't be sure of the formula used to compute these data, but i bet it'll increase the money i earn....yes?


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

Do you have a link to the rowing machine you use Jason?


A Little TRUTH profile image

A Little TRUTH 4 years ago

Jason, either you slipped a few decimals there with that rowing machine, or you could join the Olympics and easily blow them all away. A top athlete can put out about 500 watts continuously or 1,500 in short bursts. 46,600 watts is more than enough to run all of the appliances in Brie’s list above at the same time.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan Author

LOL, very true A little TRUTH!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country

I heard about a dad who thought the kids were watching too much TV and not exercising enough. He hooked the TV to to a pedal-powered generator so it could only be viewed when someone was pedaling. Two birds, one stone.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan Author

I bet those kids never had a weight problem either!

Personally, I love the idea of hooking up playground equipment. You could make a whole park out of playground equipment that generates electricity. Why don't we do things like that?


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country

Playground equipment, yes! Kids have energy to spare.

I also heard of a college that was using their fitness center to generate power from people as they use the various equipment. It can be done.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan Author

Yeah..I thought of that too. I wish more of these sort of things would be implemented.


DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

I used to go to spinning classes (indoor stationary cycles) and often thought that they could be used to generate energy for the fitness centre. I believe (though not certain) that there is a footpath somewhere that uses energy from pedestrians passing by to power certain things on the road.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan Author

Wow, I've never heard that before.

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