Child Labor or Great Idea? Kids’ Play as Renewable Energy Source


Solar panels on the roof and windmills in the backyard — individual families using their property to harness energy, contribute to the grid, and reduce their own energy bills is all the rage (in some areas more than others).  But what if we could harness our children’s play as a renewable energy source? Some might call this child labor, but it is just one idea coming out of IBM’s “People Power” concept that involves harnessing the energy from the thing we do and using it to create renewable energy.

At public playgrounds, in school yards, and in backyards around the world, children use their energy to jump on trampolines, to push swings back and forth, and to make merry go rounds go around, and around, and around.

  • Imagine using the energy your kids expend in the backyard to help reduce your energy bill.
  • Imagine harnessing the energy from public playgrounds and using the funds to help reduce municipal taxes and improve public spaces.
  • Imagine schools using the energy expended on their playgrounds to buy more books or more sports equipment.

At the moment, there is a big battle to get kids outside and public health authorities say our children aren’t moving enough. There is too little outdoor play time during the school day and children spend too much time on video games and television instead of outdoor free play during their free time. There is an obvious public health motive for getting kids outside more, but that doesn’t seem to be working.

If we added sustainable energy and financial incentives, would that get kids outside? Would it make it more worthwhile for parents, teachers, and public officials to prioritize play spaces and play time?


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Photo credit: Are you my rik? on flickr


Chiris Jerrycho
Chiris Jerrycho3 years ago

Found your blog excessively interesting indeed. I really enjoyed studying it.

Caitlin F.
Caitlin F.4 years ago

Sounds like a good idea to me. I don't think its child labor as long as the kids are playing cause they want to.

Lucie G.
Lucie G.4 years ago

it does not help in the Uk the schools are often selling off their playing fields to property developers leaving the children no large areas to play and run arround

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers4 years ago

As long as it is voluntary play!

Lucie G.
Lucie G.4 years ago

thank you

Milan L.
Milan L.4 years ago

Shan D. - Now you're coming down to Earth, you can see some humour in this. But as for some areas being too far from the sea - That is no news to me, I live in Australia. No one solution is universally the best. You may try Wind. What do you expect from me? solution for everything in 50 words or less? It is 11pm over here. I am going to bed.

Shan D.
Shan D.4 years ago

BTW, why *couldn't* this work on a small scale? How about for every hour a kid wants to spend watching TV or playing video games, he/she has to pedal a certain amount of power toward running some household appliance?

If Gilligan and the Skipper could do it back in the '60s on an island with no electricity, surely we could do at least as well 45 years later!

Shan D.
Shan D.4 years ago

"Shan D. - You think small scale - I propose large scale. Tidal power units anywhere along the coast(s) can feed their output ,large or small, into a grid, taking power wherever it is needed." - Milan -

I think *practical* scale. Over what distance and what kind of terrain do you expect this tidal power to work? Please realize I'm talking about Canada, here. There are many communities in the Territories and the remotest parts of Quebec and Labrador that still don't have electricity from *any* source of power, or at least not reliably. Some of these communities are effectively cut off from the rest of the country for part of the year, except by small airplane (they need the winter freeze to provide a reliable surface thick enough to drive on during the winter months). How would you get your tidal power to these people?

Milan L.
Milan L.4 years ago

Apologies to Vicky B., who did see the instalation and maintenance cost problem.

Oh, Donna B. also brings up a good point: While it is true that (some) children like to feel usefull, they don't like the feeling of being used. They all know the difference. When they find out that their PLAY produces something usefull they'll avoid it like a plague. Or - worse still - will expect to be paid for playing in your RIGGED playground.

Milan L.
Milan L.4 years ago

I have now scanned all the comments so-far and nowhere did I see a mention of the cost of installing the infrastructure, maintaining it - nowhere is there a mention of electricity-carrying wires/cables in the playground full of inquisitive, adventurous or plain destructive little so-and-sos. Come on, people - come down to Earth.