Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Proposal image

What Calories Can Do by Michal & Jim

Share via:


A City fitness facility, open to all Somerville residents, that also generates power.



As I was winding my fully analog clock, I thought about how the energy from food I consumed was transferred to my hand, then to the mainspring of the clock, and finally to the clock's hands.  A machine for reporting the time of day was operating on my calories.   

A calorie is a unit of heat.  Every day, hundreds of members of my health club burn calories on treadmills, stationary bicycles, rowing machines, and Stairmasters.  A lot of wheels are turning, but none of the energy is transferred for any useful purpose.  The club consumes energy, rather than producing it. 

I propose that engineers design, and the City operate, a health facility that is also a power generation plant.  It will operate on the same principle as a water mill, except instead of a river or stream, human beings will generate the power.  It will be open to all Somerville residents, at a nominal charge (a la the Kennedy Pool).  This will accomplish three of Somerville's stated goals: a fitter population, renewable energy, and job creation, especially jobs for youth.

What actions do you propose?

Engineers will design the energy-generating system and calculate how much net energy the facility will produce, if any.  It will be necessary to offset the amount of energy consumed by members who drive to the club; if this is excessive, perhaps the City could operate a shuttle with a regular route around town.

 If the design  indicates that the facility will produce net energy, the City will make a building available (such as the derelict community school that is currently available for development in West Somerville), fund the rehabilitation, and hire personnel to operate and staff the facility.  

Who will take these actions?

An engineering concern to design and evaluate the energy-generating potential.  A design/build firm to rehab the building.  An interest group to lobby the aldermen, the mayor, and the public.  The aldermen to approve the use of the building, the design/build proposals, and the funding.  The mayor to push the aldermen.  

What are the key challenges?

To answer this question, I would need to find someone with expertise, which I will do if CoLab indicates further interest in this proposal. 

What are the key benefits?

Job creation, particularly among youth, who will staff the facility.  A fitter population.  An affordable or free health club where Somerville residents can hang out and get to know each other (particularly in the winter!).

What are the proposal’s costs?

A cost estimate will require further research and expertise, which I will secure if CoLab is interested in this proposal.  

Time line

Given the public bidding laws, all parties to the design and creation of the facility would have to submit proposals.  I believe it would take a minimum of five years to have this facility up and running.

Related proposals

Value not set.