Generating electricity through energy sources other than coal and nuclear is being debated in legislatures and board rooms around the world. In addition to natural gas, wind, solar and geothermal, there's one zero-emission energy source that we really don't hear much about: prisoner power. But it's real.

Inmates at a facility in Brazil have been given an option to reduce their sentences by pedaling bicycles that generate electricity. It's taking place at a maximum security prison near Santa Rita do Sapucai in the mountains north of São Paolo. See the video below.

According to news reports, doing the local community a solid helps the inmates feel better about themselves and improves their health. Gilson Rafal Silver, the prison director, says prisoners can exercise and lose weight. As for reducing their sentence, every 24 hours of pedaling reduces their prison stay by one day. The energy lights up city lights.

In this age of government budget cuts and energy efficiency, does it make sense for prisoner power to become a viable alternative? Human power is also considered by some to be an important transportation power source, by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association, for example. Do these power bikes count?


Brazil inmates cycle to freedom by generating... by euronews-en


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  • 38 Comments
      • 2 Years Ago
      and yes i know it's damn and home if you had hands the size of mine you would miss a few keys yourself.
      Joeviocoe
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ug... and they don't even have a grid-tied system... so they are charging a few car batteries and carrying those batteries to a local park to power street lamps during the night. How much energy is lost in transporting all those heavy, lead-acid car batteries back and forth. And there is plenty of loss if 12volt DC lead-acid batteries are being used to power 120volt AC street lamps too. Also, those car batteries are the worst for such constant cycling and deep discharge... they are designed for Cranking Amps (high power for a few seconds and a trickle charge). Using them this way, they will need to be replaced often.
        Chris M
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        It would be much more practical and efficient to use the power locally, at the prison itself.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Lol, good point! Nice PR stunt though huh? at a high cost to the taxpayer :P
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      If the cause is to lose weight, then excellent. However, if they intend to turn food into electricity, well, then they are going to find out why we ditched human/animal power for the internal combustion engine, steam engine, and generator, long long ago.
      Joeviocoe
      • 2 Years Ago
      "As for reducing their sentence, every 24 hours of pedaling reduces their prison stay by one day." LOL... Little do the prisoners know... the reduction is NOT on the back end of their sentence, but those hours pedaling are considered a form of freedom! ;)
      Peter
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why not? It might not be green nor auto, and its not even transportation, but exercise gives solid health benefits to these people. Biking is good for those not residing at the big house too! http://youtu.be/aUaInS6HIGo
      • 2 Years Ago
      how dame dumb do you fake power lovers have to be omg you could take 5000 of these guys riding 24 hours a day none stop and maybe light up one hone for 8 hours are you fn joking me omg wakr WAKE UP YOU DUMB ASS HOLESSSSSSS wind, solar and BATTERIES FOR CARS DO NOT WORK NOW OR EVEN FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS AT LEAST BEFORE W E CAN MAKE THEM PAY OUT MORE THEN IT COST TO MAKE THE POWER THEY GIVE US NOW GET IT!!!!! NOT A good power source any of them.... natural gas,and geothermal AND YES COAL are the way for our homes and natural gas for both our homes and our cars and we have it now!!!!! and it will last the USA at least 150 more years by then we can make the others work for us but NOT NOW THERE NOT READY NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!
      Somian
      • 2 Years Ago
      That's not zero-emission. Humans also emit CO2 burning calories.
      bigbenaugust
      • 2 Years Ago
      Do they have an actual figure of how much these guys are generating (Wh or less likely kWh)? I'm not sure how much of the city they're lighting... but hey, if it helps the prisoners out, more power to them. All puns intended. ;)
      David
      • 2 Years Ago
      Oh, no, don't anyone tell Sheriff Joe about this! He'll have all those illegal Mexicans awaiting deportation lighting up Tent City! How much money could he save the county with this scheme? Do it, Sheriff Joe! Then you'll have to fight another bad comparison: this looks like a modern version of Roman slave rowers, battle ships powered by slaves...
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Human power is also considered by some to be an important transportation power source..." If they meant: human brain-power, them yes, it indeed is (i.e. for driving innovation). And finally: "...there's one zero-emission energy source that we really don't hear much about: prisoner power." Actually human power not at all zero-emission as we normally exhale approx. 1 kg CO2 per day, but under increased activity levels we "pollute" far more than this. And I didn't even mention the increased metabolism, resulting in increased fuel consumption (food), which also greatly increases our carbon footprint. All in all, this is a great solution for reducing prisoners' sentence, but less so for CO2 emissions.
        Anne
        • 2 Years Ago
        If these guys have to exercise anyway to stay fit, then this is simply harvesting energy that would otherwise go to waste. Hence, no extra CO2 emissions.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          Anne, Here's an interesting blog about the human-bicycle power topic: "Understanding the Scale of Electric Power Generation" "...I propose that we have Lance Armstrong generate some power for us! I’m going to hook Lance’s bike up to one of these contraptions and make him generate some power for me. ...an average rider can generate 200 Watts of electric power, but luckily I have Lance, and he is going to produce 400 Watts for me (this is even high for a professional cyclist. Also, there will be inefficiency in converting Lance’s leg motion into electricity, but 400 is a nice, round number). All told Lance will be able to power almost 7 (400 Watt divided by 60 Watt light bulb) incandescent light bulbs for me. Woo Hoo!!!" And now a calculation about how many pedaling Lance Armstrongs would be needed to replace a nuke power plant (where the author once worked): "I once worked at a nuclear station in South Carolina. I remember it took up a lot of land. What if I got rid of the nuclear station and just put a bunch of Lance Armstrongs on that land? Considering the nuke power plant was about 2.5 Giga (billion) Watts, I would need about 6,345,000 little Armstrongs pedaling away to replace the production from the nuclear plant! While Lance’s marketing team would love this, I don’t know if that will work either..." http://mapawatt.com/2011/08/02/understanding-the-scale-of-electric-power-generation/ And another blog on bicycle power (same author): Bicycle Power – How many Watts can you produce?" http://mapawatt.com/2009/07/19/bicycle-power-watts/ But I'm glad to hear that you have a solar PV installation so you can easily avoid hiring of at least 4 Brazilian prisoners by replacing them with solar panels, which (solar panels) also generate no CO2 emissions and don't require food as well. Therefore, you have a real win-win scenario.
      Tweaker
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not to rain on the parade, but have they considered the energy it takes to create the calories needed to pedal those pumpers? The most I ever ate was while riding a bicycle through France in the early 80's. Ended up eating through my wallet and had to sell the bike.
        EVnerdGene
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        good point yeah, another ill-conceived idea. my rough numbers show that each guy could produce about 1 kw-hr per day, taking about 4 hours. adding about xxx calories to their couch-potato diet six shifts per day ? At that rate, it would take 31.3 years to payback the investment in the bike/gens. But only six months to have some UN group consider it cruel and unusual punishment and shut it down.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        When someone says that an electric bike is wasteful, i bring this exact point up. In fact, i remember losing weight on a 2,500-3,000 calorie diet when i was bike commuting 30 miles a day for work. The human fuel tank is quite expensive to fill up! makes operating a car look cheap!
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        I wonder. This is Brazil, they make a lot of Ethanol don't they? What would be the calculations for a single Acre of Brazilian farmland (used to be rainforest) converting a one year harvest to 1 of 2 energy paths: 1) Food to provide the extra calories for biking to produce electricity 2) Ethanol crop to burn in an Internal Combustion engine 1 acre, for 1 year.... how many KWH going the ethanol route.... and how many KWH going the food/biking route?
      bigbenaugust
      • 2 Years Ago
      Do they have a figure as to how many Wh (I doubt it's in kWh) these guys are generating?
        Anne
        • 2 Years Ago
        @bigbenaugust
        Depends on how long you measure. An hour, a day, a year? A reasonable exercise about 150 W, so 4 prisoners is 600 W. Doing this 10 hours per day (multiple shifts), will get you 6 kWh per day. My solar panels generated the same amount today. No sweat.
          Anne
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          No luck for me Grendal, the perps here rather spend their time getting high in an Amsterdam coffee shop.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          yes sweat
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          You should get rid of the panels and go with prisoners instead.
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