Friday, August 22, 2008

A visionary solution

Unless Hollywood has lied to us, we all know how much convicts like to workout. Big screen and small screen antiheros spend hours everyday in “the yard” making shady deals, bartering for smokes, plotting escape, and narrowly avoiding being disemboweled, all to the relentless clanking their fellow inmates hitting the weights. Even Edmond Dantès, better known as the eponymous brooding hero in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, got completely ripped in prison by digging tunnels and learning fencing from l’Abbé Faria.
In the US, we have about 2.3 million people in jails and prisons. Just think of the potential resource we have if we were to synergize this population with the “Powered by YOU” program at Hong Kong’s California Fitness gym. The gym employs specially designed exercise bikes and cross-trainers to run the lights and charge batteries. Just swap penitentiaries’ existing equipment for stationary bikes, treadmills, trainers, and revamped resistance machines, and we’re in business.
A typical person can produce about 50 watts per hour on one of these special machines. If each inmate were to workout for only one hour a day, five days per week, fifty weeks per year, that would yield 28.75 gigawatts per year. That’s more than the paltry 26.47 gigawatts the US produces (combined annual nameplate capacity) from wood, black liquor, other wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, sludge waste, tires, agriculture byproducts, other biomass, geothermal, solar thermal, photovoltaic energy, and wind. That’s right, prison power beats all renewables other than hydro combined. I should contact the Patent Office...
It’s a win-win, win-win-win proposition. Prisoners contribute something to society while they get into cinematic shape. Firms will enjoy high-dollar government contracts to build and install the machines, and owners of for-profit prisons get an additional revenue stream. Republican politicians and voters get to pat themselves on the back for being tough on crime and putting lazy convicts to work, making time for the real issues of getting handguns and religious education back into the public schools, where they belong. Democrats can have a warm, fuzzy feeling about creating green-collar jobs to rehabilitate offenders, while creating a renewable energy source, allowing them to get down to the real agenda of legalizing marijuana, teaching Marxism in Head Start, and stopping anyone from earning money for anything. And we, the American people, can crank up our air conditioners so high that we need to wear sweaters in July. Is this a great country, or what?


Sue said...

I don't know, erd, I think you might need a new pen name -- maybe Jonathan Swift??

Chris Crawford said...

I really hate to ruin this great idea -- it is just *too* cute -- but you're confusing energy with power. This plan would generate about 18 gigawatt-hours of energy, which is indeed a lot of energy, but it's about as much as a typical large power plant produces in 18 hours.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris C,
Oh bother. I did hope no one would notice that I was comparing apples to oranges. And "combined annual nameplate capacity" sounded so terribly official.