The pedal powered generator from Windstream is perfect for emergencies, power failures, remote locations, and off-grid applications. It can be pedaled or cranked by hand to charge 12 volt batteries and run small appliances. The typical average continuous power that can be generated by pedaling the Human Power Generator is up to about 80 watts. The maximum power obtainable through hand cranking typically is about 50 watts. The pedals and optional hand-cranks are interchangeable. Re-engineered for more strength, easier adjustment, and smooth operation, the new MkIII Human Power Generator is the tool for energy education and self-reliant electrical production.
Back in the ’70s, if Sheila Kerr wanted to watch television she had to work for it. Her inventor father rigged the TV to a generator powered by a bicycle. “If I wanted to see ‘The Dukes of Hazzard,’ I had to pedal,” Kerr said recalling her favorite show with a laugh. Today Kerr still is pushing pedals, but not to see Luke Duke or Boss Hogg. She’s head of sales and marketing for Windstream Power LLC, founded by her father, Colin Kerr. She sells human-powered generators all over the world.
Some might be powering TVs but they are also powering lights and appliances for foresters in camps in Siberia, “off-grid” homesteaders in Alaska, even owners of ocean-going boats. With increasing awareness about the effects of global warming and skyrocketing energy costs, human-generated power is gaining attention again. Windstream is well positioned to take center stage as one of the only established makers of human-powered generators. In April, Windstream was acquired by Bowles Corp., a North Ferrisburgh environmental engineering company, providing Windstream with engineering expertise and financial backing.
Bowles does oil-spill recovery through subsidiary Clean Earth Technology and makes an ultrasound watt meter used in ultrasound imaging machines. “I’ve been for years and years looking for the third leg of the stool,” said Dave Bowles, president. Windstream turned out to be the answer, although at first he wondered about the market for human-powered generators. As Bowles learned more about them, he saw possibilities.
Windstream makes two types of human-powered generators. One uses a bicycle crank assembly attached to a chain and a fixed gear that charges a 12-volt battery by hand cranking or by pedaling. The other is a bicycle training stand that hooks up to a bicycle. The charged battery, with the help of an inverter, becomes a power source for a variety of needs from a laptop computer to a light bulb to an appliance.
The idea for a pedal-powered generator grew out of a wind turbine generator Windstream developed that was designed to perform in adverse conditions. The Helius, still in use today, was attached to the top of buoys in the ocean generating power for underwater research equipment.
After the Helius was on the market, requests began to come in from boaters who wanted to generate power without having to rely on their diesel engines. The pedal-power generator was introduced in 1978. Windstream’s generators are marketed to schools and museums that use them to demonstrate how much human exertion it takes to make power, something most of us have little awareness of, noted Dave Melichar, an engineer with Windstream.
“There’s a huge lack of knowledge in our community and society about how much we consume and what it takes to produce it,” Melichar said. The generators aren’t cheap. The pedal crank sells for $497. The bicycle trainer setup costs $558, without the bike. The battery packs cost $397 but are sold at a discount when paired with the generators, Kerr said.
In addition to educational uses, they are popular in places without reliable electricity, like Zimbabwe, where there is four hours a day of electricity and that seems to be waning, Kerr said. People who intentionally live “off the grid” without electricity in remote places such as Siberia and Alaska, also buy them, Kerr said. The company enjoyed a bump in business in 1999 from people worried about failure of the grid at the turn of the century, she said.
Kerr is excited to have the company in a situation where it can grow. Already, Windstream’s battery pack has been streamlined and made more portable. Sales have doubled this year. Windstream hasn’t advertised in years, relying on the internet to bring in customers. Googling “human-powered generator” brings up the company’s name, not because it has paid for that, but because Windstream is one of the few places in the world to buy one.
Inventor Colin Kerr, who has officially retired, arguably was ahead of his time when he hooked up the family TV to a bicycle three decades ago. Things may be finally be changing, however. “In the early ’70s there was a sudden awareness that other sources of energy were called for because of the oil crisis,” Kerr said. “It takes a few rounds before society gets it. We’ve already had a few.”