Dancers Now Help Power Glasgow Nightclub

Humanity thus far has supplied most of its electricity needs by burning stuff, mostly very old stuff that burns great but is hard to replace. That stuff is getting increasingly expensive, and the pollution is a bother too, so renewable sources of energy are becoming more popular.

While wind or solar power are commonly used at the grid level, one Glasgow nightclub has taken a different tack. It’s capturing energy from its patrons to help keep the lights on.

Pump Up The Heat

Heat energy from dancers will be captured and stored by the Bodyheat system installed at SWG3. Credit: SWG3 news page

The facility in question goes by the name SWG3, and hosts a variety of club nights and other artistic events. It features multiple spaces with capacities exceeding 1000 people, having been built in what was once a former galvanizing facility and warehouse complex. When the music is flowing, the punters cutting shapes on the dance floor often generate plenty of heat, and that led to an idea.

The basic concept came about when David Townsend, the founder of TownRock Energy, met Andrew Fleming-Brown, the managing director of SWG3. Fleming-Brown was on the hunt for sustainable energy systems to help power the club, and Townsend was in the geothermal business.

The results of this collaboration was a renewable energy system built to take advantage of the energy released in dance. Known as Bodyheat, it captures the energy emitted by the dancers in the club. Heat pumps take the energy released into the room from the patrons, storing that heat into a cube of rock under the nightclub, via boreholes dug 200 meters deep into the ground.

This is pretty much the same as running a regular refrigeration-cycle air conditioner in the club, but the heat from the dancers is pumped into geothermal storage instead of simply passed out into the wider atmosphere. The benefit of storing this energy is that it can then be used to heat hot water to serve the club, or to warm other rooms that may not have as many gyrating bodies to keep the temperature up. The system essentially captures waste heat, and then later shifts it to somewhere it can be more useful.

The Bodyheat launch event saw a huge crowd bouncing to the tunes, putting out plenty of heat in the process. Credit: Michael Hunter, TownRock Energy News Page

As for figures, with a full crowd, there should be plenty of energy to harvest. It’s estimated that the average adult puts out around 100 watts at rest, or closer to 250 watts during moderate physical activity like dancing to dull, slow music. But get the crowd pumping with some top-notch high-tempo bangers? You could see up to 500 or 600 watts put out by each person on the floor. With a thousand people in attendance, and a solid DJ set or three? It would be possible to capture tens of kilowatt-hours of heat energy at the very least. Just make sure they drop Sandstorm to really get the rocks hot at the end of the night.

Renewable energy is used to run the heat pumps, keeping the whole system net-zero in terms of carbon emissions. The hope is that in time, the system will enable the club to discontinue its use of municipal gas entirely. This would save on the order of 70 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The system has taken three years to come together, at a cost of over £600,000 ($672,000). That’s around ten times more expensive than it would have been to install conventional air conditioning, according to Fleming-Brown. However, it’s believed that the energy savings should allow the system to pay itself off in around five years or so. Given the enormous costs for energy right now, there’s a better chance than ever that prediction comes true.

There’s already interest to implement the technology in other high-tech European clubs. Townsend reports that the SchwuZ nightclub in Berlin is particularly keen on implementing a similar system of its own.

It’s not the first project to explore capturing energy from dancers in a club. Previous efforts have involved using piezoelectric elements to capture mechanical energy and turn it into electricity. However, the Bodyheat concept has the benefit that it directly benefits the club by directly removing heat, replacing the existing need for a regular air conditioning system. It also doesn’t require the installation of a potentially maintenance-heavy mechanically-complex dancefloor.

The concept doesn’t have to be limited to nightclubs, and could find use in other spaces where large numbers of people gather. The technology of heatpumps is proven and well-understood, and thus we may see more geothermal storage solutions like these proliferating in areas where there is value in stored heat. For now, SWG3 will serve as a useful test case as to whether such a system can work in the real world and be economically viable.


Banner photo: “deep space – cielo nyc” by 416style.  Thumbnail: “Clubbing 2” by James Jin

60 thoughts on “Dancers Now Help Power Glasgow Nightclub

  1. There’s a fallacy here where you expect to save 70t of CO2 by not using gas to heat the room. The human efficiency to produce heat is so low compared to gas that you’ll end up consuming (and releasing) a lot more to feed these humans in the end.

    1. Except that those humans where already producing that energy from food already. The old solution was just to vent out that heat as waste, now instead, its being put to use.

      If you are bringing in humans especially to heat things up, that’s a different story.

    2. If the people were dancing for sole purpose of heating, that would be true – but the point here is the humans want to dance anyway, which produces excess heat – so instead of dumping it outside (possibly using yet more energy to do so) they store the excess heat for later.

      If this was, say, a workplace or school that was organising exercise sessions for the purpose of heating their building, then you are correct that this would be a very inefficient approach!

    3. This is more true if these humans are only consuming the exact amount of fuel required. If they, like many in first-world nations, are eating more than that, this is just a more optimized utilization of waste.

      1. Humans generally do consume only what calories they spend. The body tends to maintain a constant body mass, so unless you’re genetically disposed to become obese you just lose your appetite after a while.

          1. If you keep eating the same and stop moving as much, you gain weight. Conversely, if you don’t gain weight, you must not be eating as much. Otherwise you’d be passing non-digested food through your gut, which would be horribly uncomfortable. Calories in must equal calories out, or you’d be breaking the laws of physics.

            The present theory is that the body maintains a weight homeostasis, which can be disturbed by circumstances, but it explains why people remain the same weight for years and decades without deliberate effort. Over the long term, you eat just what you consume.

          2. Weight homeostasis is not entirely accomplished by changes in calorie intake or deliberate calorie output. You also have to factor in metabolic efficiency and digestive efficiency, which varies wildly. Unless you’re permanently living inside a bomb calorimeter, and burning your wastes inside another bomb calorimeter, can you really say you’ve measured “calories out” accurately?

          3. If you pass significant amount of edible calories through your gut, you tend to get horribly ill because the energy is consumed by your gut bacteria instead. You get gas and diarrhea.

            Likewise, consuming the extra calories “inefficiently” would cause you to run up a fever, because the energy would turn up as heat. The energy has to go somewhere.

      1. Except, unfortunately, you emit CO2 just for growing/raising the food, that won’t be sequestrated. Contrary to wood, for which the maintenance is really light, the food needs fertilizers/feed. It’s equivalent to nuclear plants not being perfectly carbon neutral because you emit CO2 while mining the uranium.

  2. That’s a really clever idea!

    I’m going to be “that guy” and point out that metabolism is still technically burning things for energy, but this is an excellent efficiency upgrade!

    1. I’m going to one up your “that guy” and say that you’re not “burning” things in the same way as burning oil. AND it’s not actually more efficient. It just doesn’t use up fossil fuels. It’s bioenergy!

      1. Except farming has a tremendous CO2 output and environmental cost. Ammonium fertilizers come from fossil fuels and 40% of the usable land area is already taken up by humans to grow stuff.

        1. Well, warming will produce a vast increase in farmable land in Siberia and Canada. Why are wealthy politicians buying mansions on the beach instead of in Edmonton or Yellow Knife Canada?

      2. It’s a good point and one that’s been debated for a long time.

        From a chemical standpoint, they’re largely the same. Organics are oxidized producing water, heat, and carbon dioxide. With methane, the goal is to produce heat as a direct energy source. Biologically, glucose (and a few friends) are systematically broken down via glycolysis, the TCA cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation to store usable, chemical energy in adenosine triphosphate. Depending on the book, this could be called “combustion.” Other definitions include light production, which doesn’t happen discernably during exercise (barring infrared, but this rant is getting too long already).

        It’s just silly semantics, but I like to put aerobic metabolism in the “combustion” camp.

        As for efficiency, as someone pointed out earlier, that depends on what was done with waste heat before.

          1. Combustion is “a high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel (the reductant) and an oxidant”. High temperature is a relative measure – things like Thiophosphoryl Fluoride combust with a cool enough flame that you can hold it in your hand.

  3. 500 or 600 Watts per person? I would be very surprised if this system was available to produce more than 5 Watts of usable energy per dancer, or about 1% total efficiency. So although not technically wrong, I think the part of the article mentioning these numbers is VERY misleading about the potential of such technology. I would be interested by the actual numbers used in their claims, although very crude estimates can be calculated from the ones they gave (if they are to be trusted).
    It cost about 600 000 pounds and electricity is expected to be at about 50 pounds per kwh in england. So to pay for itself it has to produce about 600 000 / 50 = 12 000 kwh.
    So 4 000 kwh per year over three years. That makes about 75 kwh a week. Now let’s say they are open 5 nights a week, 4 hours with an average attendance of 800 people. That makes 16 000 “person hours” inside. 75 000 / 16 000 = 4.7w on average.
    Wow I didn’t expect to come so close to my initial estimate, I made all the numbers up except the ones from the article, but didn’t change anything to get closer to my initial “at a glance” estimate, guess it was not too bad.
    Anyway, I hope this illustrates my points, those number are horribly misleading in that context, please at least put them in perspective instead of just copy / pasting dubious promotional content.

      1. This one I didn’t invent, just found it on google looking for “average kwh price uk”.
        Here’s the excerpt : “Average UK electricity prices per kWh averaged around 18.9 p/kWh in 2021, but will be closer to 51 p/kWh by the end of 2022; this is according to the latest data from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and based on projections by Cornwall Insight.”

    1. They are not generating/producing energy.

      They have a room full of hot people and it needs to be air conditioned. The 600W per person is a heat load that needs to be dealt with, not a supply to be tapped. Many places would use a heat pump and pump the excess heat to the outside air. In this case, they are pumping excess heat into the dirt below the building. It takes electrical energy to run the heat pump, typically around 1/3 – 1/4 of the thermal load, so approx 150W per person. The total 600W + 150W per person then gets dumped into the dirt, making it hotter.

      They then offset this electrical cost by using the stored low grade heat energy to reheat water, and heat other colder rooms. The saving on water and room heating is what is paying back the £600k.

  4. Oil is renewable and manufacturable. meaning petroleum products are almost trivially recyclable. Depolymerization is not energy intensive. Finding polymerized materials is very easy. If we just stopped demonizing oil, we could do a lot of fairly efficient recycling.

      1. There is/was a gym in a shopping centre in Canberra with glass walls anda donut shop or something similar just out side. You could sit and have a coffee and donut and watch the people on the stationary bikes and treadmills. I often sat there and thought about the possibility of using all that equipment to generate electricity to contribute to the power grid instead of turning it into heat to be removed by over sized AC units.

      2. Most claiming to recycle plastics are a fraud as they just grind it up and add it to new material, making an inferior material. DEpolymerization takes low energy, and breaks plastic back into oil, which can then be distilled and REpolymerized back into 100% quality plastic. The issue is the DEpolymerization makes pretty random sized chains, which is why “Oil” comes out of it, not monomers. So no, its not “perfect” but its FAR better than the current grinding up and making inferior product. It is not a fraud either. The distillate will contain molecules suitable for making the original plastic directly, as well as other petroleum derivatives. The process does not just work on plastic, but ANY organic “waste”. Again, the energy was put in as building polymer chains. Grass clippings, sewage, leaves, as well as any petroleum product. If you did this at scale, the random nature would likely produce more than enough arrangements and chain lenghts to resupply the majority of petroleum products not burned for energy. Its not 100% efficient, so obviously there would still need to be input of new materials, its not closed circuit. Would closed circuit be perfect? Absolutely. But waiting until we get perfect means we dump tons of petroleum every year…for no reason. Even if the fficiency was so terrible that you only retrieved half of the product as useful, that’s still a 50% reduction! If we stop waiting for perfect, we could have this! It was developed in the late 90’s, so consider how much waste could have been actually recycled since then while we sit around waiting for things to break petroleum products back down to their original constituents….and how much longer we will be waiting….and how much more will be produced in that time. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that it would be far better to get what is “good” out there, rather than wait for “perfect”

  5. Remember shake lights? I have one really good one where when held vertically, the magnet stays suspended within the coil. If I made a bracket to hold it vertically in a car, just driving around would bounce the magnet up and down enough to keep the thing charged.

    Put a whole bunch of such magnet and coil arrangements under a dance floor and let the vibrations of all the pounding feet generate electricity.

    The Mall of America in Minnesota has air conditioning but no heating system. The body heat of all the shoppers is enough. A few years ago the system got a pretty big efficiency boost from a new filter design that was much less restrictive to airflow.

  6. 250 watts dancing to slow full music and 500-600 at full tilt? No. F’ing. Way. A Tour de France rider puts out 200-300 watts and as a former crappy triathlete I can attest that 200 watts for me was max all out effort. So whatever made up efficiency numbers their racket is claiming, chop it by about 2/3.

    1. Was this net energy, or gross? I can see how 200W of mechanical power from a human might also lead to another 200+ W of heat. If we were 100% efficient, exercising would make us hot.

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