Energy-efficient gym equipment installed at The Rec

Energy-producing ellipticals, indoor cycles and treadmills were installed in the Recreation Center to generate lights and air conditioning. USF

USF has become the first Florida university to welcome 12 pieces of new green energy producing gym equipment, which have been installed in the Recreation Center.

The final cost for the project was $66,691, which was covered by the Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF). The costs included the equipment itself, as well as materials to set up WiFi for the machines and their installation.

Purchased from the SportsArt ECO-POWR line, the equipment generates energy while being used. The energy created is captured and transformed into electricity that can be used by the facility which the machine is connected to. 

While The Rec is open and the equipment is being used, the energy generated will power functions such as lights and air conditioning, according to Director of Recreation and Wellness James Souza.

Energy produced by the equipment cannot be stored for later use and must be used immediately due to the absence of a power bank, which would have been more intensive to install, Souza said. 

One benefit of this line of equipment, Souza said, was its “old-school design.” While many modern pieces of equipment use motors to start and keep it moving, the ECO-POWR equipment uses the user’s body weight to move, and has a curved shape that allows it to move similar to a hamster ball.

The machines can be used without being plugged in, unlike other more energy-intensive designs. Because of this design, the equipment requires less energy while still producing it to offset the footprint of the rest of the facility.

Users can track the amount of energy produced on a TV to the left of the equipment. Other stats include liters of gasoline saved and carbon dioxide emissions reduced. Users can also be ranked by signing into the SA Well+ App, where the amount of energy users produce can be put into leaderboards.

This holds the potential of establishing competitions where the equipment’s users attempt to produce more energy than the others in exchange for some kind of prize. Souza said there are currently no plans for such an event, but he hopes it will encourage more people to work out. 

Souza first applied for the SGEF to cover the equipment in Dec. 2019, and later received the funding in Apr. 2020. Souza said he believed that the initiative was something that students would be excited about, and he wanted to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the SGEF.

“[I wanted] something that’s different. Something to set us apart from every other institution in Florida,” Souza said. “Being the first [university] to have it is exciting, as a preeminent university.” 

First installed and available to the community in July 2020, the equipment has since been updated to allow its screens to work. Souza said Recreation and Wellness was also waiting to advertise the addition until COVID-19 had decreased in severity.

The decision to accept Souza’s application was simple, Alexis Mootoo, associate vice president of Resource Management and Development and non-voting council member for the SGEF, said. 

“It was easy to fund the project because it was clear that this was going to enhance a student or a faculty or staff experience in the [Recreation Center],” Mootoo said. “It was a way to show to the community at large that we do care about saving energy and that we can do our part.” 

Because the project didn’t require any additional work or construction to install, only available space, it was easy to implement, according to Mootoo. Other projects may be more resource-intensive in order to be installed, but Souza said the plan was simple and promised results.

“Energy conservation is so broad, it’s so complex in so many ways,” Mootoo said. “So this project was easy to measure because it was not going to use any energy at all.”

As part of the selection process, applications are voted upon by a committee consisting of six faculty and staff and six students. The vote for the gym equipment was unanimously in support of the project, Mootoo said. 

Souza said he believes installation of similar equipment at the other Recreation and Wellness facilities would be “wise,” citing the potential savings in energy costs, but in the long-term he defers to student preference in installing more of the same equipment.

“I want people to get excited to get on a machine that makes power instead of using power, and they can see the direct result,” he said.