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How Sports Teams Can Participate in the Clean Energy Revolution

Photo: Courtesy of Abigail Keenan
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Kelley A. Martin

Director of Operations, Green Sports Alliance

Overall, the technology isn’t there to power sports venues exclusively on renewables, but Kelley A. Martin, director of operations at Green Sports Alliance, says there are plenty of ways teams and venues can go green.

What are some technologies used to power stadiums? 

Advancements in solar and wind technologies, as well as cost reductions and efficiency improvements, have made these technologies widely accessible to the sports industry. We’ve seen an increase in newly built stadiums and arenas adding these technologies at larger scales where they can power significant amounts of their operations — beyond just gameday power usage — in environmentally friendly and efficient ways. 

Existing buildings that were built 10 or more years ago are adding onto their current solar/turbine installations, and if there is an issue due to space limitations, we’ve seen many instances where venues are partnering with regional wind and solar farms to enhance their capabilities and capacities; definitely a win-win for all involved.

What about power in the event of a natural disaster or blackout?

In regard to natural disasters, stadiums play a crucial role in their communities, providing shelter and safety. While traditional backup power methods work to some extent, they are limited and not always reliable, especially for longer periods of time. 

An area our organization is exploring, in conjunction with key partners, is stadium resiliency and microgrid technology. A microgrid is a small-scale powergrid that can independently generate, store, and operate, and they are adaptable to situational circumstances. In the context of the sports industry, microgrids exist within the confines of a stadium or arena, or within a sports complex comprised of several venues. 

A renewably powered microgrid at a sports venue could be the next big step in natural disaster support. A microgrid’s purpose extends well beyond disaster use, to day-to-day energy management and that, of course, is the main driver in why many venues have installed them.

What are some roadblocks to implementation of microgrids and renewable energy in arenas/stadiums?

From the venue and venue management perspective, cost is usually perceived as the primary roadblock, although costs for the equipment and technology to support the microgrids are coming down. There are also organizations that work with private investors that own and operate renewable energy portfolios to offer low-cost financing and other solutions to make it more affordable and profitable.

With regard to renewable energy like wind and solar, the main roadblock is the power demands of the venue. The technologies at this time simply cannot provide enough power to support the total energy needs of many of these facilities, even paired with energy storage options, because they require a lot of space and the site needs to be suitable for wind or solar in the first place. As I mentioned before, there are some workarounds by partnering with regional renewable energy providers, but it is definitely a different setup and system when the technology is offsite vs. onsite. 

Can you highlight one really neat innovation in the industry in the last few years? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing in the next few?

Energy storage systems at stadiums are one of the hottest topics at present. There have been several sports venues that have deployed battery storage technology and we’re excited to see more of this. These devices can help reduce costs and decrease impacts on local grids by smoothing out the power demand profile of venues. 

A recent example at one of the UK’s well-known soccer team stadiums: They’ve installed a battery storage system that will store enough renewably-sourced energy to power the stadium for an entire match — according to their data, that’s the equivalent of powering 2,700 homes for two hours! It’s incredible to think that that battery will be charged, used for a game, recharged, reused, etc., for an estimated 15-year lifespan.

Looking toward the future, it will be possible to use batteries at sports facilities to sell electric power and related products back to the local grids, which will enhance the revenue stream associated with the battery storage investment and assist with deploying the overall technology — smart business sense.

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