How many bikes does it take to power a concert for 1,000 people? Ten, according to People Powered Parties co-founder Lucas Coffey. The organization uses human strength, that is energy generated from pedalling stationary bikes to operate microphones, amps and lighting at musical events like the 2011 SOS Festival.
Volunteers take shifts, riding the bikes for hours, which is less exhausting than it is exhilarating because of the energy of the crowd, says Coffey. “Some people talk to us for hours; some even make lists for ways we can improve.
“If we need more energy, we just tell the people to ride faster. We don’t use energy from any other sources other than the bikes.” Since the current flows through a charge controller and gets stored in a battery, staff must regularly check the battery to see if it’s getting low.
Coffey doesn’t have a background in renewable energy or science; he was a philosophy major at Grant MacEwan when, in 2009, he and three friends started Music is a Weapon, the parent organization that promotes local artists and raises money for charities, such as the Red Cross, through concerts.
Since the bikes’ showcase is as much a part of the show as the band on stage, People Powered Parties used a $1,000 grant from the Edmonton Awesome Foundation which, every month, gives out a small reward to a winning idea for a local project. After winning in January 2012, People Powered Parties used the proceeds to update its looks with designs by a local artist. One bike was made to look like fish were swimming from the spokes, and another had musical notes on it.
Coffey’s been looking at comparable systems in San Francisco for efficiency. There, the energy from each bike goes into an individual generator, ensuring minimal energy is lost and that the hard work of concert participants goes as far as possible.