Human Power Plants

A funny concept developed by artists Kris De Decker and Melle Smets is the human power plant. As the name suggests this is a power plant which converts human labour into electricity. Like many artistic projects, the main purpose of this project is to make people think about our energy consumption.

According to De Kris and Smets we need two minutes of human labour to charge a mobile phone, 30 to recharge a laptop for 5 hours of battery power and for one hour watching television we need one of hour of human labour. But to power your wash dryer, we need 20 hours of human power.

Though De Decker and Smets have designed the human power plant to analyse sustainability, we could put HPPs in a more economic perspective. From the perspective of energy economics, a human power plant makes very little sense, as humans need food in order to be able to perform work and we need energy to produce food.

However, a HPP could have some use as a job guarantee program. With increasing automation unemployment is expected to rise as well. Simultaneously, all those computers and robots need electricity. Jobless people could be hired by a HPP operator to provide electricity to automated businesses.

As a job guarantee a human power plant has the benefit that it does not require intellectual skills or creativity and hence could provide work to most people, including the lower educated. Everyone who wants, could work in a human power plant. Also operating a HPP will require only little bureaucracy and could easily set up by local governments.

In one of the videos below the designers of the human power plant argue that the work should be a social event to make the job a more pleasant activity. And a participant in the pilot plant makes the case that the job should be integrated into a game to make it more “fun” and hence more attractive.

An important side benefit of this scheme is that regular physical exercise will increase one´s physical health. As illustrated by this infographic from the Washington Post, the sedentary life style of most people has serious negative health effects. A full-time job at a human power plant would not only increase life expectancy and quality of life but would also reduce healthcare costs.

More info:

Human Power Plant – official website

Here a few short videos of a pilot human power plant at the University of Utrecht:

One thought on “Human Power Plants”

  1. Human power plants were featured in the second episode of the first season of ‘Black Mirror’. The episode was called, ’15 Million Merits’.


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