When restrictions began to loosen, teeming dance floors became a symbol of recovery around the world. At SWG3 — an arts center in Glasgow, Scotland, that hosts some of the city’s largest dance parties — tickets for club nights sold briskly during the summer and fall of 2021, before the arrival of the Omicron variant. “The appetite for these events has been stronger than ever, and it’s fuelled by the long period of time we were all denied it,” said Andrew Fleming-Brown, SWG3’s managing director. “We’ve missed that shared body heat experience, being packed together in a full venue.” What if dance floor catharsis could be good not only for the soul but also for the planet? This month, SWG3 and geothermal energy consultancy TownRock Energy will begin installing a new renewable heating and cooling system that harnesses the body heat of dancing clubbers. The plan should eventually reduce SWG3’s total carbon output by 60% to 70%. And it may be replicable. TownRock and SWG3 recently started a company to help other event spaces implement similar technology. There is poetry in the idea: the power of dance, made literal. “Conversations about sustainability can be pretty abstract,” said David Townsend, founder and CEO of TownRock. “But if you can connect it to something people love to do — everyone loves a dance — that can be very meaningful.”
At rest, the human body produces about 100 watts of energy. Strenuous dancing might multiply that output by a factor of five or six. Dr. Selina Shah, a specialist in dance and sports medicine, said club dance floors can be especially good at creating heat. “If it’s really high-energy music, that generally results in very fast and high-energy movement, so you’re looking at a significant level of heat generation — potentially even the equivalent of running,” she said.
To capture that energy at SWG3, TownRock developed an application for an already widespread technology: the heat pump. One of the most common heat pumps is the refrigerator, which maintains a cold interior by moving warm air to its exterior. The SWG3 system, called Bodyheat, will cool the space by transferring the heat of dancing clubbers not into the atmosphere, as in conventional cooling, but into 12 boreholes approximately 500 feet deep. The boreholes will turn a large cube of underground rock into a thermal battery, storing the energy so it can be used to supply heat and hot water to the building.
Development of the system began in 2019. Pandemic shutdowns, and the financial uncertainty that came with them, paused the project for several months. But with their events calendar emptied, SWG3 leadership had time to develop a larger sustainability plan for the building, setting the goal of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2025. “That moment allowed us to pause and really assess what’s important to us as an organisation,” Fleming-Brown said. “We decided to make it a priority.”
The writer is a journalist with NYT©2022
The New York Times