SportsArt Fitness is introducing the next generation of "green" fitness equipment that harnesses power from exercisers using ellipticals or cycles and turns it into usable power.

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Dick Ellison walks briskly at 3.2 miles per hour on a treadmill at The Hearthstone senior-living facility’s fitness center in Green Lake. He’s wondering how much time he has left in his circuit class and whether it’ll rain, as he looks up at the skylight.

The 83-year-old is not thinking about the amount of electricity it takes to support his workout session.

But he may in the future. SportsArt Fitness, a Taiwanese company with its only North American distributor in Woodinville, is introducing the next generation of “green” fitness equipment.

The company revealed its Green System at an International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association show in March. Throughout the summer, engineers are working out the kinks in the technology. The system is expected to be on the market by the end of the year.

The equipment harnesses power from exercisers using ellipticals or cycles and turns it into useable power. That means, people work out on Green System equipment and the energy they create goes back to an inverter, a box about the size of a stereo receiver. The inverter converts the power into usable energy, sending it back into a power grid.

SportsArt Fitness claims the Green System can generate up to 2,000 watts of power in an hour. So in that hour, exercisers could create enough energy to run a ceiling fan for 30 hours, a laptop for 40 hours, or a VCR/DVD for 133 hours.

But, researchers aren’t sure the system will provide enough usable energy to make a difference.

Clark Williams-Derry, the programs director at Sightline Institute, a Seattle sustainability research center, said the idea of a green gym is a “cool concept.” He said it allows exercisers to feel a connection between their personal effort and a clear environmental result, but he also wonders if the electricity generated will actually pay for the extra cost of the equipment.

He said the energy generated by exercise is “truly minuscule.”

“Top Tour de France cyclists can produce more than 400 watts of power during steep climbs,” Williams-Derry said. “That sounds like a lot, but it’s only enough to power a few incandescent light bulbs and only a fraction of what we use in our daily lives.”

Company muscles up

SportsArt Fitness, founded in 1977, originally manufactured pieces for larger exercise equipment manufacturers, like Schwinn and Precor. In 1996, the company began focusing on its own brand and now sells equipment for commercial and home use in more than 80 countries.

In the early 1990s, it started distributing out of Woodinville to take advantage of the port access to Taiwan.

The company has previous experience with “green” products. ECO-POWR treadmills were introduced five years ago, with the creation of motors that use 25-50 percent less power that industry-standard treadmill motors.

Ellison walks on a ECO-POWR treadmill at The Hearthstone, and he never knew the treadmill was saving energy.

“Well that’s wonderful,” Ellison said. “I believe in green stuff.”

Sean Fordham, the wellness director at The Hearthstone, said the facility chose SportsArt Fitness equipment because the company is local, it has a great reputation for medical-based equipment, and the energy savings are worth it.

“We have these two machines that are self-powered. You don’t have to plug them in,” he said. “That’s great for this building because it was built in 1966 and trying to run electricity is difficult.”

Fordham said the facility, which is used by 62 percent of the 190 residents, who range from 62 to 103 years old, bought two cycles, a treadmill and three weight machines from SportsArt Fitness in November 2010.

“The prices are best for what you get,” Fordham said.

All-new machines

If Fordham wanted to use the Green System when it’s released, he would have to purchase all new machines. Only specific SportsArt Fitness machines will be compatible with the Green System.

Anywhere from five to 20 ellipticals and cycles can plug into one inverter. Treadmills cannot be used with the Green System because they will require electricity to run the conveyor belt, said Amber Maechler, of SportsArt Fitness.

Price of the system has not yet been released and will vary depending on how many machines are purchased, but the inverter itself will cost significantly less than other inverters on the market, product manager Bob Baumgartner said. He said that other inverters can be $10,000. The Green System cardio machines will be slightly more expensive than existing SportsArt Fitness cardio machines, he said. The current club category elliptical is $6,899.

Maechler said the Green System is aimed at helping club owners with one of their greatest expenses — the utility bill.

“(The Green System) is going to be expensive,” Maechler said. “But the power generated will offset the cost.”

The company says that one inverter with 10 units connected, running for eight hours a day, could save a gym more than $3,000 a year in electricity bills.

Melissa Powell: 206-464-8220 or mpowell@seattletimes.com