By initiating a movement that he believes will positively impact all of humanity, founder and CEO of 5-Hour Energy Manoj Bhargava hopes to solve the developing world’s most pressing energy concerns with one simple appliance.
Not long after developing his famous energy supplement in order to improve the lives of the working class, Bhargava released a 2015 documentary about his current altruistic undertaking, entitled “Billions in Change.”
Billions in Change, the organization through which Bhargava intends to build a better future, will function by “creating and implementing solutions to serious problems.”
These problems pertain to energy, water, and health, and the organization has already made waves by announcing their energy solution: Free Electric.
A standard stationary hybrid bicycle, Free Electric will potentially allow households in areas with limited or no electricity to power their houses without contributing to pollution.
One hour on a Free Electric bike, for example, can power a home for 24 hours, providing a healthy source of exercise in addition to clean energy; however, the organization stresses that this invention’s health benefits are not its intended purpose.
While Bhargava and Billions in Change aim to improve the living conditions of people who essentially exist off the grid, both critics and supporters have raised questions regarding the morality and potential footprint of this venture.
Nicolas Gordon, Manager at the NYU Office of Sustainability, explains why this type of project may actually have a potentially negative impact in specific scenarios; he worries about the potential risks involved in manufacturing, shipping, installation, and maintenance on however many units Bhargava produces.
“Even just in manufacturing,” Gordon tells BTR, “this is a lot of material. You have to construct these units with something. Where are they going to be built? What are they going to be made of?”
If each house needs one bike to provide electricity, that equates to hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of units. Considering the eventual scale of Bhargava’s mission, this project may actually take a tremendous toll on the environment.
“It might be a greener energy, but you still have to draw on resources that are finite. If you have a huge power plant, ultimately that would largely negatively impact the company’s carbon footprint.”
Gordon feels additional concern regarding the eventual disposal of broken or malfunctioning units, explaining that these units are not completely biodegradable and will in turn contribute to the growth of landfills.
Though Bhargava’s mission will help a group of people who desperately need energy in order to improve their daily lives, the scale of the project seems unrealistic.
To implement this project in millions of households in developing countries, and even to expect that people who have adapted thus far to a way of life without electricity will react positively, is a risky endeavor.
“Everyone deserves a better quality of life,” Gordon says, “but I do think there are a lot of layers to that.”
Layers to that ideology include facing the reality of the situation, and questioning if this will actually catch on as Bhargava intends.
While stationary bikes are gaining in popularity as a means of exercise in the United States, is the incentive of cleaner energy enough to bring this project to a global scale?
“Certainly this is ambitious,” Gordon says. “I’m not a big fan of these plans that try to target the whole world at once.”
Gordon believes that projects of this kind succeed mainly on a smaller scale, because they pose less of a drain on resources and labor when implemented in lesser numbers.
As for the possible introduction of this technology to countries such as the US, for example, Gordon just doesn’t see the numbers adding up.
When approached on the idea of a possible communal use of these units in office buildings and dorms, he maintains that “it wouldn’t make sense.”
He further explains that unlike a family in need of electricity in their home, most employees and dorm residents would feel no personal obligation to spend an hour on the bike without some kind of financial incentive.
Until Free Electric’s release, however, critics and supporters can only guess at the benefits and pitfalls of this project as well as the potential benefits it may bring to the table.
Feature photo courtesy of the UK Department for International Development.