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Very interesting project. If a humble armchair engineer may, one human energy source that I do not see used in your drawing is the potiential energy generated by going up stairs. Perhaps a different system for going down might accomplish this. I'm thinking of some sort of rope coiled around a pump that had a seat at its end. Sit on the seat, and your weight causes the seat to go down, the rope to unwind, and the pump to gravity battery.

Would seriously consider moving in if I lived in the area.



"Could We Run Modern Society on Human Power Alone?"
TL;DR: No :)

If Wikipedia's information is correct, folks in the Netherlands use 6,346 kWh of electricity average per capita per year. Using your human power generation figure (100W on a stationary bicycle), and assuming that your adult population can be persuaded to produce an hour of electricity per day, I calculate 24kWh per capita per year.

That would put the per capita electricity usage on par with Somalia and Chad - so a society could function, but certainly not a modern one.



nice project! it is good to remember though that many 'problems' of the modern society are self-invented, you don't really need a machine to solve them but you just need to stop being lazy and do those tasks manually.

Lee Johnson


This an excellent idea - logically sound, and the vertical structure saves space too. But there is an even more direct approach to storing and distributing human energy.

Given an ample amount of land, a human can interact with it, through his or her labor, and produce chemical energy that can be stored for periods of time when monitored in cycles. Raising livestock, growing gardens, and cutting firewood are just a few examples of energy harvesting activities that require human exertion. Add to that the necessity of hand built structures that house tenants, equipment, and livestock in the winter, and there's even more necessary human labor required.

This is a more direct transfer of human energy into stored energy, because there is less fuel required to ferry food to a market where it is purchased and brought back to the communal living space. Perhaps the ultra efficient communal space proposed here could be at the center of the operational land area, to provide a base for citizens to gather and coordinate, while tasks performed in the field are considered contributions for those who do not wish to monotonously use exercise equipment to generate energy for the group.

John Weber


Plant, animal and human power worked for 100,000 years plus.

All the things in our world have an industrial history. Behind the computer, the T-shirt, the vacuum cleaner is an industrial infrastructure fired by energy (fossil fuels mainly). Each component of our car or refrigerator has an industrial history. Mainly unseen and out of mind, this global industrial infrastructure touches every aspect of our lives. It pervades our daily living from the articles it produces, to its effect on the economy and employment, as well as its effects on the environment.
The whole picture needs to be included not just the installed device.

This essay looks at the energy used in copper, glass and other common tools of everyday life. There are also videos of other necessay parts of our life styles - WINDOW SCREEN – A SYRINGE – MEDICAL PLASTIC TUBING - A CPU FOR YOUR COMPUTER – AN ELECTRIC MOTOR – A FAN (GLOBAL WARMING) - FARM MACHINERY.



First you/we can not get 47% of the people to work for the food that the snap program gives them for free. You might get people to work between solar & wind gapes, but persons are living off the grid with only solar now, so it can be done.

Also, zero net homes/buildings can reduce the amount of energy needed. Reduction is the great form of power for the human power plant.If you can live without it then no need for the power to keep it going. Candle or led lights will help reduce power needs.

C.M. Mayo


This is brilliant. It made me smile. I will now go churn some butter.

Jay Gaff


Have you seen the TV show "Black Mirror", episode "Fifteen Million Merits"?



Will definitely come to the "open day" when it starts.
Its reported that the complete exercise is pretty much walking with weights. Exercises like Farmer's carry, pulling and pushing weights are supposed to provide the best bang for the buck and seem easy to turn into energy generating machines...

Best wishes with the project.

Hilton Dier


It's an interesting concept, but I am doubtful about the embodied energy in the devices used. Will the human energy collected by using the device over its service life significantly exceed the energy used to make the device?

In the case of pedal powered electric generators the answer has been established: no. Too much copper, steel, and plastic involved. Even the direct pedal powered tools of the early industrial revolution relied on the non-sustainable extraction of coal. You'd have to go back to all-wood spring pole lathes to get a reasonable Energy ROI.

We are just too feeble compared to the energy requirements of our daily lives and, more importantly, the energy investments in established infrastructure that supports our lives.



@Jay Gaff
Yes I have but I've also watched the TV show Utopia on Channel 4 and I both solutions scare me. Degrowth is the best solution in my opinion.



In ancient times, navies were powered by human power. Captive human power.

Just 200 yrs ago, human power cultivated and harvested cotton in the American South. That turned out well.

In "Matrix", Neo woke up and convinced others that they will no longer be captive human power

Darkest Yorkshire


You could store rainwater just below the roof and when extra electricity is needed a valve opens and it flows straight down a pipe to a turbine at ground level. It would have a large power output because of the extremely high head.



In the bike rent systems, bike parking in high places lost all bike, and lower parking suffer overbooking.
This bikes need be transporte to higher places in vans and trailers.

I think to park in higher parking need a good prix, since free rent to bus ticket for return to recover other bike to climb with it. Its a injustice that a bike climber cannot do this jobs witthout lost money.

Somebody can do exercise and help society at time. But system don`t help him

It's a example of human power not being used.



Interesting idea, but it is plagued by errors and mistakes.

>Firs of all, humans are naturally lazy. An I somehow can not imagine how they will happily jump on stationary bike and generate power for hours, maybe in some dystopic scenario or those that want get in shape, but if you took sample of general population, how much of them really do something for their health. Despite all promotion of healthy lifestyle, only small portion of people exercise and obesity is still greater problem.

>Second human heat have to be refined by some heat pump, yes people can heat building, but this is connected with large amount of humidity etc. that will on other hand be problematic and as well every living organism produces carbon dioxide, that means that air have to be renewed

>Third those energy efficient lightbulbs saves energy in situ, but their production is quiet resource intensive, that is not good idea.

to: Hilton Dier
Metal production can be based on renewable fuels as it was well into 19th century in parts of world, but it needs wast resources of wood and it could be problematic.

to: Edgar
Greatest problem of degrowth and such ideas, permaculture for example is that general population is not willing to participate in it. Look what happened with renewables and energy efficiency. Instead of self production of electricity, lowering demand and so, we try to use it for supply of current levels of consumption. Biomass is not used where it is produced, but transported hundreds of miles to former coal power plants. Energy efficiency is dependent on complicated technology. Instead of passive heating system and clever building design we rely on traditional design only with thick insulation and heat pumps.

People are not willing to change their ways, look on transportation. they still prefer cars to buses and trains, well partly it's problem of railways and price of public transport, but there is no push for better trains more often, new railways and stations, quiet contrary, they often want to get rid off them. On other hand every village want it's road bypass, every city it's highway, large car parks and as measurement of progress and development they took how many malls they have on outskirts.



This project is nothing more than an interesting thought experiment. Please do not take it as venturing into an even remotely realitsic solution.

The exess energy the inhabitants are producing of course has to come from somewhere. 1st law of thermodynamics: Energy does not appear out of thin air, it can only be converted from one form into the other. In this case the energy comes from food. So the participants have to consume more food in order to produce this energy. The article only briefly touches on this by stating that "In combination with the right diet, human power is carbon neutral.". Alone our food system is nowhere near carbon neutral. If it were we would really be a big step closer fighting climate change. Agriculture is a major contributor of climate gases.

So instead of making it appear like the project discovered some yet untapped source of freely available energy that is smartly utilized, it should do a comparison that is approriate here: Compare the "human powerered infrastructure" with other forms of energy source, for example in terms of "agricultural land required" and then set the required area into perspective. I am pretty sure that "powered by photovoltaic panels" beats "grow crop to feed humans to power lightbulb" hands down.

So again, while it is a nice and provocative thought experiment, please do not take this actually serious.

PS: I wish they would put more focus on human powered machines that actually make sense, like the pedal powered blender, pointing out other benefits of humans powering tools, like independance from the grid and availability of utility.



I'm the only one who thinks that the idea of having the women "motivating" men in a jacuzzi is a really sexist idea?



I've often wondered about falling waste water in buildings. Couldn't some kind of micro water wheel be used? Same in rainwater drainage?

Someone tried to explain why it wouldn't be possible but I've often wondered why we can't recover waste noise to convert to energy eg, operating and vibration noise from machinery, etc



Rolf: Agreed, thermodynamics. Though, humans are incredibly efficient energy-converters: a bicycle gets the equivalent of 1,200 miles per gallon.

Javier: I noticed that as well. Even if the reported difference between genders is empirically true, the 'emotional labour' on the part of women to get men 'energised' as it were, is unacceptable in a civilised society.

Theresa: Solid or semi-solid waste would clog the turbine and shut it down quickly.


OK, so:

1) This is a great experiment. It's to be hoped that there will be a full effort to collect as much empirical data as possible without producing a panopticon.

2) Children, elders (much above 50), and people with disabilities, need not apply. This is only suitable for the young and athletic, such as in dorms, and in military barracks under peacetime conditions (in wartime we want our service members to be able to devote their full energy to the tasks of defence).

3) The greatest impact any human can have on reducing climate change and ecological overshoot generally, is to have one fewer child. True, as confirmed in a recent report on comparative behavioural climate impacts. (I don't have a URL off the top of my head, should be easy to find with a search.)

4) The key factors in reducing birth rate are equality for women, and economic security. When women have equal education, legal status, job opportunities, and of course reproductive control, the birth rate rapidly and voluntarily declines to a level slightly below replacement: population decreases toward a sustainable level. See also France and Japan. However, the governments of said countries have deliberately sought to thwart what they should recognise as a major advantage, by offering financial incentives to have more babies! The effect of that is equivalent to the intention to burn coal. We have got to incentivise population decline, not dis-incentivise it.

5) The most important thing the world could do to reduce climate impact is to promote feminist revolution worldwide, with the goal of full equality for all women and full control of their own reproduction. Some countries, where women are presently 'property' of men, will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, but international trade incentives (both carrots and sticks) should help. Alongside this, guarantee potable water and food security, sanitation, vaccination, and education, to all the world's peoples (paying for this will require seriously progressive tax policies).

5) That said, empirical findings from the experimental dormitory will be of enormous value in lowering the energy footprint of dwellings and workplaces. And it's also highly likely that if a person spends even an hour a day exercising to produce energy, they will have a much greater appreciation of their energy usage habits, and will tend to have a strong sense of 'buy-in' that in turn will encourage substantial conservation.

6) One way to get people producing energy like eagerly buzzing bees, is to attach a 'screen' to the stationary bike. Let people produce the energy needed for indulging in screen entertainments such as TV, movies, reading online, using 'social' media, etc. Given the addictive nature of screen entertainments, there should be no problem getting people to pedal away their hours after work. Yes I'm quite serious about this.



Short answer: no.



Wow, communal work quotas, one child policies, and settling for lower standards of living in the name of equality? It's so brilliant that I can't believe nobody else in the world ever thought of it! We could have had utopia everywhere it would have been implemented!

Seriously, aren't our priorities severely misplaced if we're willing to rip babies out of women's pregnant bodies and lower living standards for everybody (unless you're an official), just to sustain the earth on its axis?

And how is it sexist for women to motivate men to work? Have you never had a girlfriend or wife before? The quickest and most straight forward way to fix a lot of modern societal problems would be get women out of the workplace, since nearly all of them want to stay home and raise children after pregnancy anyway, as a decent mother should.

That way, men would have millions of better job opportunities available to them while having fulfillment in providing security for their loved ones, and their women would also feel more secure because they will be less concerned about whether their men can keep up with their work success, and be grateful that they are taken care of.

kris de decker


@ Thunder [#21]

You write: "Wow, communal work quotas, one child policies, and settling for lower standards of living in the name of equality?......"

Nothing of what you write is actually true. First, the article doesn't talk about children at all: this is a student community. So, the "babies being ripped out of women's bellies" are entirely your fantasy.

Second, the "communal work quotas" you refer to are actually composed by the students themselves. As a community, they decide for themselves what luxuries they want and how long they want to work for them. Nobody is forced to produce power and everybody is free to leave the community whenever they want.

Third, the students are not settling for lower standards of living in the name of equality. They are settling for lower standards of living because the high standards of living that we grew accustomed to are destroying the natural environment that we depend on. For your information: we published an advertisement for the human powered student rooms and received more than 60 applications in one day.


Then, over to your sexist rant, which I suppose is meant to be sarcastic. [Also an answer to Javier, #17] Yes, we are well aware of the fact that inviting girls to motivate guys to produce power is controversial. Apparently, it's OK to use the female body to sell cars and other consumer products we don't need, but it's not OK when it's used to promote renewable power or a sustainable way of living.

More importantly, in a human powered world, power relations between men and women may shift. On average, men produce more power than women. There's little use in denying that, and for us it's impossible to ignore the issue. For one thing, we need to decide which types of people to show on the images.

This raises many ethical questions, not only about gender but also about skin color (black people and the history of slavery) or physical limitations (is the community open to people in wheelchairs?). Fossil fuels do more than powering cars, factories or heating systems: they also support democracy and equal rights.

kris de decker


@ vocalpatriot [#20]

This project has demonstrated to be a great way of separating people with imagination from those without. Yes, at first sight, the answer seems to be "no". But if you're open to really think the question through, it becomes clear that the answer is less straightforward, and that there is a lot to learn from this perspective.

@ G [#19]

"One way to get people producing energy like eagerly buzzing bees, is to attach a 'screen' to the stationary bike."

That's quite a problematic proposal because the screen would require a great deal of the generated power.

@ Dairokan [#15]

"I somehow can not imagine how they will happily jump on stationary bike and generate power for hours, maybe in some dystopic scenario or those that want get in shape."

At least in Utrecht, there is a massive amount of people exercising or doing sports, and people cycle everywhere. As I wrote above, we received 60 applications for a human powered student room within 24 hours. Of course, not everybody is interested, but we only need to fill 750 rooms.

@ Hilton Dier [#10]

"You'd have to go back to all-wood spring pole lathes to get a reasonable Energy ROI."

I doubt that. A well made human power generator can last a hundred years or longer. Furthermore, we built the whole installation using found and recovered materials, and we use a hydraulic battery. It is the chemical battery that makes human generated electricity unsustainable: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/05/bike-powered-electricity-generators.html

kris de decker


@ Rolf [#16]

Your point is addressed in the latest post: http://www.humanpowerplant.be/2017/09/how-to-feed-a-human-powered-building.html

The Dutch eat too much: they could produce power for 2 to 3 hours without extra food intake.



On the topic of if people would coerce other people to work for them why not make everything powered directly by who is using it? We could have special batteries attached to our bodies that fill with energy threw out our day, we can take a component off and plug it into some sort of household storage unit then have our power just there. as for powering lights in a whole community building as opposed to just powering your washing machine or charging your phone, we could just be issued a power tax. Turning energy into a form of currency so the city collects stored power from everyone like a tax to run communal structures. Every individual will still power their own individual things to the best extent. Electronics will be battery powered and machines like microwaves and washers will be powered by tools that we operate to make them function.



I came across this article when researching and I was immediately intrigued and thought the concept was well thought out and intelligently designed...but then, mid-way through the article, I read the 'water under pressure' section and was shocked at the dated, sexist, unacademic statements. That section, and even more so that intentional and demeaning setup existing within the project, is completely unneeded and inappropriate.

kris de decker


@ Susanna

Sorry to offend you. But it's not an academic paper, it's an art project. You call the statements "dated" but actually we included them to show that power relations between genders are also determined by the energy source upon which society runs -- and that won't be fossil fuels forever.

Our question "Could we run modern society on human power alone?" raises a lot of other questions, whether you (or we) like them or not. We're now doing a scenario about human powered hospitals and be assured that it brings even more concerns.

The whole point of the project outlined above is: how do we motivate spoiled people in western societies to live independently of fossil fuels? I hope you are just as critical of car commercials and all the other sexist advertisements around us cause all we did is appeal to the most primitive instinct of men to promote (and produce more) renewable energy.

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