YouPower, Middlebury College’s student-run spin classes, prides itself on its unique method of energy production, but because of high costs and low returns, the program is being forced to re-examine its mission.
YouPower was started two years ago as a way to make students more aware of their energy consumption. Two magnets attached to the front of the bike create a direct current that is then converted into an alternate current compatible with the electrical system.
Screens in-between the handlebars of the bikes allow students to track the number of kilowatts they have produced, while a poster reminds them of the energy used by everyday items like phones and computers.
However, the bikes are inefficient at producing energy. So far this semester the program has only produced about $3 worth of energy. The company from which YouPower bought the bikes, Green Revolution, also recently went out of business. Green Revolution provided maintenance for the bikes and has since stopped this service. Without maintenance, parts of the bikes have begun to break down, prompting the College to question the benefits of YouPower.
Although nothing has been decided yet, YouPower leadership and the administration have talked about several different courses of action. With Green Revolution out of business, YouPower needs to find a new way to maintain the bikes. Some of the solutions being explored include finding another company capable of maintaining the bikes or removing the parts of the bikes that collect energy – making them easier and cheaper to maintain.
YouPower, therefore, has two different paths ahead of it. One is to continue its environmental focus and the other is to concentrate more on the workout aspect.
Members of YouPower claim its educational benefits as well as its convenience for students. YouPower’s location on the opposite side of campus from the gym provides students with an alternative workout space. A back room in the Freeman International Center (FIC) is home to ten bikes, all equipped with a generator that converts students’ workouts into usable energy.
Forrest Carroll ’15 is a YouPower instructor and strongly supports finding a solution to maintaining the bikes without losing the energy component. He said, “This is the only tool that has students actually consider how they might be more responsible with their energy use. So in our theoretical analysis, we are saving the school a heck of a lot more than [about] $10 a semester. We are saving this school hundreds of dollars by improving energy practices and filling an academic shortfall.”
Sarah Fossett ’17, the treasurer of YouPower, sees YouPower’s mission going forward differently. “YouPower is about creating a safe place on campus for people to work out, where it’s not about how you look but having fun. Fitness can be a social stratifier on campus, but this is something that lots of different people can do together.”
Fossett believes that it’s most important to provide students with this comfortable, convenient workout space focused on supporting self-image and self-confidence. Ideally, the energy component of the bikes would be part of this, but the complications and costs of maintenance might necessitate getting rid of them.
Currently, plans are underway to enhance the spinning room and give it more of a professional, gym feel. In two weeks, the current carpeting in the room will be replaced with a gym floor.
The energy component of the bikes will be an ongoing discussion between YouPower and the administration in the coming weeks. While the energy component provides many educational benefits, the decision will also take into account the cost and what will best accommodate everyone on campus.