Harnessing an unusual natural energy: the body heat of the dancers

At the time of the pre-vaccine pandemic, as closures dragged on, ode to lost joys from the dance floor has become a motif in the medi...

At the time of the pre-vaccine pandemic, as closures dragged on, ode to lost joys from the dance floor has become a motif in the media. Memories of sweaty evenings at crowded clubs captured much of what Covid had taken from us: community, freedom, gloriously messy physical closeness.

When the restrictions began to loosen, the teeming dance floors became a symbol of recovery around the world. AT SWG3 – an arts center in Glasgow, Scotland, which hosts some of the city’s biggest dance parties – club night tickets sold out at a brisk pace during the summer and fall of 2021, ahead of arrival of the Omicron variant. “The appetite for these events is stronger than ever, and it’s fueled by the long period of time we have been denied,” said Andrew Fleming-Brown, CEO of SWG3. “We missed this experience of shared body heat, being packed together in a complete place.”

What if dancefloor catharsis could be good not only for the soul but also for the planet? This month, SWG3 and the geothermal consulting firm TownRock Energy will begin installing a new renewable heating and cooling system that harnesses the body heat of dancing clubbers. The plan is expected to eventually reduce SWG3’s total carbon production by 60-70%. And it can be reproducible. TownRock and SWG3 recently started a business to help other event spaces implement similar technology.

There is poetry in the idea: the power of dance, made literal. “Conversations about sustainability can be pretty abstract,” said David Townsend, Founder and CEO of TownRock. “But if you can connect it to something that people love to do – everyone loves a dance – it can be very meaningful.”

A mutual friend introduced Townsend and Fleming-Brown in 2019, after Fleming-Brown expressed interest in exploring low-carbon energy systems for SWG3. Townsend, 31, is a regular at the clubs and has been there several times. (“You will usually find me right outside the hall, always dancing, sometimes without my shirt on,” he said.) At this point, more than 250,000 people were coming to SWG3 each year, Fleming said- Brown. Townsend knew from experience how big and hot the crowds could be.

Many geothermal energy projects involve deep wells that capture the earth’s natural heat. But digging them can be prohibitive. “Trying to make a geothermal well would have cost millions of pounds,” Townsend said. “Instead, we thought, why not grab the heat you already have from your customers and then use the ground to store it? “

At rest, the human body produces approximately 100 watts of energy. Intense dancing could multiply this output by a factor of five or six. Dance and sports medicine specialist Dr Selina Shah said club dance floors can be particularly effective at creating warmth. “If this is really high energy music, it usually translates to very fast, high energy movement, so you are watching a significant level of heat generation – potentially even the equivalent of running.” , she said.

To capture this energy at SWG3, TownRock has developed an application for an already widespread technology: the heat pump. One of the most common heat pumps is the refrigerator, which maintains a cool interior by moving warm air to the outside. The SWG3 system, called the Bodyheat, will cool the space by transferring the heat from the dancers not to the atmosphere, as in conventional cooling, but to 12 boreholes approximately 500 feet deep. The boreholes will turn a large cube of underground rock into a thermal battery, storing the energy so that it can be used to provide heat and hot water to the building.

Development of the system began in 2019. Pandemic shutdowns and the accompanying financial uncertainty put the project on hold for several months. But with their calendar of events emptied, SWG3 leadership had time to develop a broader sustainability plan for the building, setting the goal of achieving ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2025. ” This moment gave us the opportunity to pause and really assess what is important to us as an organization, ”said Fleming-Brown. “We have decided to make it a priority.

Bodyheat became a central part of the plan when work on the project resumed in fall 2020. The first installation phase is expected to be completed in early spring and will provide heating and cooling to the two main event spaces at SWG3. Subsequent phases will provide hot water to the bathrooms and heating to the foyer and art studios. At this point, SWG3 will be able to get rid of its three gas boilers, reducing its annual carbon output to 70 metric tons.

The system is not cheap. Fleming-Brown estimates that a conventional heating and cooling system for a space of similar size would cost £ 30,000 to 40,000, or $ 40,000 to 53,000; the first phase of Bodyheat will require an expenditure of £ 350,000, or $ 464,000. But the moment was fortuitous, as Glasgow is hosting the United Nations World Climate Summit 2021 created “a lot of momentum behind this kind of project,” Fleming-Brown said. A grant from Scotland Low-carbon infrastructure transition program covered half of the costs of the first phase, and a low-interest government-backed loan contributed to the rest. Fleming-Brown estimates that the savings on energy bills will make the investment payback in about five years.

While developing Bodyheat, Townsend and Fleming-Brown realized that their system could work elsewhere as well. The new TownRock and SWG3 joint venture Heat club, created in November, aims to help a range of event spaces and gyms redevelop their buildings with a version of Bodyheat. Berlin’s SchwuZ club, a UK chain of gyms and the Scottish Arts Council, which operates a variety of creative spaces, have already expressed interest.

Townsend stressed that the idea is not exclusive. “If we end up with other companies that are also trying to put in place systems similar to Bodyheat to be more sustainable, that’s fantastic,” he said. “We just want to build momentum around renewable heating and cooling.”

Dancing has already been used to generate energy. Over a decade ago the Dutch company Energy soils introduces a line of tiles that convert the dancers’ steps into electricity. The Watt Club in Rotterdam installed the tiles for media fanfare in 2008, and they have since been used in hundreds of other projects. The Coldplay group plans to use a similar “kinetic” floor, designed by the British company Pavegen, during their 2022 eco-friendly tour. Townsend said TownRock and Pavegen are discussing a possible collaboration.

Kinetic dance floors produce only small amounts of electricity. Body heat is expected to have a more significant impact on carbon production, although dancing is generally not a very efficient way of producing body heat. Dr Shah said dance studios probably wouldn’t be good candidates for a Bodyheat-style system, as most of the dances performed there are not aerobic. Slow, methodical warm-up exercises, which make up a large part of most dance lessons, create little heat; vigorous movements tend to occur only in short bursts.

Gyms, with an emphasis on aerobic exercise, seem to be more obvious choices for projects that exploit the workout of the body. Townsend mentioned that in addition to capturing body heat, gyms could use equipment like stationary bikes to help generate electricity.

Dancing might not be the best source of renewable energy, but it has proven to be important in another way: storytelling. There is something vaguely sinister about recovering heat from gym rats pumping on treadmills. The energy born from dance – born from joy – captures the imagination in a different way.

“Initially, we didn’t think dancing would be such a big part of this project,” Fleming-Brown said. “But you need visual language to communicate an idea, and it quickly became clear that the emotional connection people have to live music and dancing was a winning streak. “

To help tell Bodyheat’s story to the crowd at SWG3, Fleming-Brown and Townsend are considering ways to illustrate the amount of heat created by the dancers, perhaps with a large thermometer or a heat map similar to those used. in weather reports. Townsend spat on the idea of ​​holding competitions to see which dancer could generate the most renewable energy – sustainability as a performance art.

For nightclubs, renewable energy systems can be both business-friendly and environmentally friendly options. The young clubbing population is particularly involved in discussions on climate change. SWG3 regular Natalie Bryce, 30, said she takes the greenery of a club into account when choosing where to dance. “All of my friends who love to hang out, we all care a lot about sustainability and how what we do affects the climate,” she said. Fleming-Brown said he also asked DJs and other artists to learn about the organization’s environmental policies when negotiating reservations.

Technology that relies on large crowds of people is not user-friendly for lockdown, however. Fleming-Brown expressed concern about the rise of Omicron in Britain affecting participation or causing capacity restrictions, which would make Bodyheat less durable – especially at the start, before the system’s thermal battery was nil ‘have time to “charge” with the warmth of clubbers. He is also just anxious to see the thing installed and working. “We still have a system to deliver,” he said. “We’ve talked about it a lot and it’s been very positive, but it has to work. “

As soon as Bodyheat is ready, so will clubbers – if Covid allows it -.

“The fact that you can do good just by having fun and doing what you love is awesome,” said Bryce. “Will that encourage me to go out more?” I can’t afford it, but yes!

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Harnessing an unusual natural energy: the body heat of the dancers
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