'Bodyheat is a crazy dream born from being in lots of hot clubs, working in geothermal energy, and bringing the two together.'
A few years ago, Andrew Fleming-Brown—the managing director of SWG3, a Glasgow arts venue—realized that his company wasn't doing enough to support sustainability. Then, a solution presented itself. "We realized that our audiences could be our source of energy," he told The Guardian. To make his vision a reality, Fleming-Brown got in touch with inventor David Townsend and his geothermal energy consultancy company, TownRock Energy. It took them a little over a year to come up with Bodyheat, a system that creates renewable energy from body heat generated on the dancefloor.
"Bodyheat is a crazy dream born from being in lots of hot clubs, working in geothermal energy, and bringing the two together," Townsend explained. "This dream is now a functioning, complex energy system that hopefully can inspire lots of other businesses and venues to reach net zero." The thermal heating and cooling system was officially turned on at the venue last week and is expected to save 70 tonnes of CO2 a year once it is fully operational. "When you start dancing, medium pace, to the Rolling Stones or something, you might be generating 250W," Townsend told BBC. "But if you've got a big DJ, absolutely slamming basslines and making everyone jump up and down, you could be generating 500-600W of thermal energy."
The system works by moving body heat from the air through ceiling-mounted units into a specialized fluid that is then transported via pipes into a plant room housed in a shipping container behind the venue. There, electricity from renewables transfers the heat into another set of pipes connected to twelve 200m (650ft) geothermal boreholes in SWG3's community garden. These boreholes funnel heat into a layer of bedrock that acts like a thermal battery, storing the heat until it's required to warm necessary areas of the venue. Fleming-Brown shared that although installing the system had been "a leap of faith," the venue was committed to achieving "net-zero" carbon emissions by 2025. "Someone has to be that first investment," he said, "but it will hopefully pay off in time."
Glasgow arts venue SWG3 has switched on a system that creates renewable energy from the body heat on its dancefloor. https://t.co/WjjVQ0yYfW— Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbo3) October 9, 2022
The system cost just over £600,000 (approximately $665k) to install. "To put in perspective, if we were to go down a more conventional route with typical air conditioning, then your costs would probably be about 10% of that—so £60,000 ($66k)," Fleming-Brown said. However, it is believed that the savings on energy bills will make the investment recoverable in about five years. "If we can make it work here in this environment, there's no reason why we can't take it to other venues, not just here in Scotland and the UK, across Europe and further afield," Fleming-Brown added.
Dr. Jon Gluyas—the geo-energy, carbon capture and storage chair in the Earth sciences department at Durham University—believes this was a "really good move" from SWG3. "Heating water requires a lot of energy and it gives up that energy fairly slowly - so when you put that heat into the ground, it's fairly well insulated. It's a great way to store the energy. Over time, you set up a sort of equilibrium whereby you may only lose a few degrees as it dissipates," Gluyas said. "The key thing here is energy transformations and heat. If you can save heat, it means you are making the whole system more efficient. It's carbon-zero and a phenomenally powerful way of overall reducing our demand on energy. If you get it from dancers' body heat then all the better. Storing the heat and playing it back is a major way that can positively influence the energy crisis in the UK and improve energy security."