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Inside story: The prisoners generating clean energy

By OVO Energy Friday 15 March 2013

We love the idea of these innovative new projects that rehabilitate prisoners by encouraging them to sustainably power homes...

The first project sees prisoners inside Pingtung jail building solar panels, which are providing solar power for the island’s electricity grid for the first time. And right now, the project can power around 639 Taiwanese homes for a whole year.

“We are primarily a resource for absorbing solar energy,” says Vice Warden Lin Cheng-rong. It's a small step towards the official government target: using solar power for 73 percent of the island's total renewable energy by 2025.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, a prison allows inmates to make good by letting them pedal for parole – literally. They have 1 day shaved off their sentence for every 3 days they spend on an electricity-generating bike, creating power for local street lamps and creating a safer environment for the community on the outside.

The scheme was introduced to the Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison after a local judge heard about gyms in California that generate electricity from exercise bikes. Convicts are kept active, while repaying their debt to society. And a reduced sentence obviously sweetens the deal.

There are only 4 bikes, with 10 people on the program – there’s a waiting list too, such is the demand for the chance to cycle to freedom.

Speaking to The Associated Press, prison director Gilson Rafael Silva said: “People who normally are on the margins of society are contributing to the community and not only do they get out sooner in return, they also get their self-esteem back.”

Sweat and tears: electricity-generating fitness facts

The idea of generating power from human activity isn’t new – one of the first gyms dedicated to the cause opened in Hong Kong in 2007.

A regular 30-minute workout on a special ReRev elliptical cross-trainer (the kind increasingly found in ‘green gyms’) will generate around 50 watts of power. This is enough to:

  • Power an energy-saving lightbulb for 2 and a half hours.

  • Charge a mobile phone 6 times.

  • Run a laptop for 1 hour.

  • Power a desktop PC for 30 minutes.

A dedicated, super-keen athlete spending an hour a day on such a machine could generate in a year close to half of what a family uses in an entire month.

And even if you’re not looking to cycle your way to freedom, or power your home from a bike, you can still take advantage of the technology when it comes to transport. Through a hybrid e-bike you can pedal part of a journey, while storing up energy for times later on when you might need a bit of extra help – like going up huge hills.