By Mattie DeDoes
Picture the average pro sports arena, complete with gargantuan scoreboards, towering steel frames, and sprawling parking lots. Now factor in the countless burgers cooked, beers drank, and hours of TV watched by loyal fans. Another season’s worth of collective emotional energy (sadly, an energy source that no one knows how to tap!) keeping hopes for a Browns vs. Lions Super Bowl matchup alive. What is the end result of all this expenditure? A great deal of waste associated with American sports, hardly representing a shining beacon of environmental responsibility.
However, across the country and around the globe, professional sports teams are seeking to make their operations more fiscally and environmentally resource-effective, in part through the use of solar power. Along with implementing water conservation and waste management programs, many major sporting venues throughout the United States have begun to use on-site solar power arrays to offset the facility’s energy use.
Rio Tinto Stadium
The most recent example of stadium solar application was unveiled on October 10, 2015, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Rio Tinto Stadium is home to two professional soccer teams - the MLS’ (Major League Soccer)’ Real Salt Lake club and the USL’s (United Soccer League) Real Monarchs.
The solar field, a 2.02 MW installation spread across various rooftops, is expected to provide 73% of the energy consumed by the facility - the largest energy offset of any venue in American pro sports. In addition to achieving this milestone, the Rio Tinto project also becomes the largest privately-owned solar array in the entire state of Utah. The majority of the 6,423 solar panels are situated atop parking garages that are connected to the stadium. The system, constructed by Utah-based company Auric Solar, is fully grid-connected and covers the equivalent of 2.3 American football fields, or 1.3 FIFA regulation soccer fields.
Why Stadium Solar?
With the need for extremely bright lights, electronic retractable roof systems, and hundreds of video screens, it is no secret that stadiums can be monstrous consumers of electricity. On the other hand, there are certain characteristics that stadiums possess that make them extremely viable candidates for solar installation.
First and foremost, most arenas (especially indoor ones) have large amounts of available unshaded rooftop surface area. Additionally, by producing power at the same location that it is being consumed, transmission losses can be kept to a minimum.
On game days, solar panels can offset a chunk of the great deal of energy used by the stadium. However, for the rest of the year, the surrounding community gets to reap the benefits. For most major sporting venues, the majority of days out of the year are “off days”. During this time, an ordinary stadium would lie virtually dormant while its home teams are out of town or out of season. The ability to transform the stadium, from the equivalent of a vacant lot, into a significant power producer during these times turns it into a major energy asset to the surrounding area.
The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) has formally recognized the benefits of housing solar power units atop stadiums. The council is seeking to promote this consideration to those sports organizations and stadium authorities that do not yet have solar capabilities. In order to encourage the installation process, the NRDC has published a guide that illustrates the benefits of solar power, poses a list of possible questions that should be considered, and outlines a series of steps that should be taken for the organization to identify and achieve their solar energy generation goals.
In addition to the direct benefits of a reduced carbon footprint and a lower energy bill, certain stadium operators have used their solar panels to teach their fans about the importance of environmental responsibility. Rather than viewing the solar panels as an eyesore and attempting to hide them in an unseen location, many stadiums have put them on display to be used as an educational tool for visitors. Some stadiums have even created special seating or patio areas directly beneath solar rooftops, with visible signage highlighting the cost savings of the panels.
While likely a coincidence, many teams that have recently employed solar power to lower their energy bills have also seen an improvement in their on-field play. After not having won a World Series title since 1954, the San Francisco Giants won three championships in five years after installing their solar array in 2008. The Seattle Seahawks, whose 782-kW array came online in 2011, promptly responded with appearances in the last two Super Bowls, including a victory in 2014. Super Bowl XLIX, between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in February 2015, marked the fourth time in three years that a major U.S. sports championship was decided between two teams which possessed solar power capabilities on their home fields.
The trend of installing solar panels at major sports venues has been gaining steam in recent years especially in the United States. Since the first solar array at a professional sporting venue was installed at Denver’s Coors Field in 2007, the overall installed capacity nationwide has reached 22 MW. A 2014 study done by SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), reported that solar arrays at stadiums across America prevented 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would have been otherwise generated in order to satisfy the facilities’ electrical needs.
Notable Stadium Solar Projects
- Coors Field (Denver, CO) - In 2007, the Colorado Rockies became the first major pro sports team to utilize onsite solar power generation. The 9.9 kW array powers the large LED scoreboard, while a real-time monitoring system displays to the fans the array’s power generation and the ongoing energy consumption of the scoreboard inside the ballpark.
- Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia, PA) - In 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles installed 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines, which produce more than 6 times the stadium’s annual energy use. This installation is a large part of the team’s “Go Green” campaign, which has playful reminders throughout the stadium - such as a sign in the men’s room telling fans to “recycle your beer here and your plastics outside”, and another claiming “the only water we waste is sweat”.
- Progressive Field (Cleveland, OH) - The Cleveland Indians partnered with Green Energy Ohio to construct the “Solar Pavilion” along the upper deck concourse. The 8.4 kW array produces enough energy to power all the TV sets and video screens in the park (... just imagine what they could do with the wind energy from Carlos Santana’s wild swings !).
- Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) - Both Wells Fargo Arena - the main gymnasium home to ASU’s basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics teams - and the nearby Weatherup Center practice facility have rooftops almost completely covered in solar panels. The two systems combine to produce over 1 million kWh of energy annually.
- National Stadium (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) - Known as the “Dragon Stadium” because of its serpentine shape, this 50,000 seat venue is 100% solar powered. The entirety of the 14,155 sq meter roof is made up of solar panels, producing a surplus of energy that can be fed back into the surrounding power grid.
The addition of solar energy-generating capability to a stadium does much more than simply reducing the monthly energy bills. While solar power will help stadiums drive newer amenities and features in a clean and inexpensive fashion, the overall effects are far more broad. A solar array turns valuable rooftop space into a power producer - for the stadium itself and its surrounding community. Visible solar panels provide the team with a concrete display of its commitment to a cleaner environment that can be used as a compelling and educational demonstration for society.
Moreover, the addition of solar panels to a stadium represents a small step toward a critical and important quest: minimizing the drastic amount of waste related to major sporting events.
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