The biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl, also became an energy event when the Mercedes-Benz Superdome lost power for 34 minutes, just after Beyonce’s electric halftime performance. Although the cause of the power outage remains unclear, that hasn’t slowed down the reaction and commentary.
Officials from electric utility Entergy say their backup system worked as planned, turning the lights back on as quickly as possible, which was small comfort as fans in the stadium and eating chili and drinking beer at home waited for the lights to come back on and the teams to get back at it. Was all this delay necessary? John Guerster, writing for Greentech Media, makes the point that the high intensity discharge lighting systems in the stadium are some of the most energy-gobbling lights around, and that they take as long as 15 minutes to warm up and get up to full lighting. As such, Gruerster points out, the Super Bowl may have been the best commercial for more efficient lighting systems, like LEDs, which use less energy and offer near-instantaneous on/off functionality.
The Super Bowl outage also highlighted grid vulnerability more broadly. Greentech Media Research’s Ben Kellison offers several possible smart grid solutions, including using data, which the Superdome is already wired to collect, to ensure supply can meet demand circuit-by-circuit and creating a special platform to manage energy for events like the Super Bowl. But is so many people tuning in an energy problem itself? Actually, the opposite is true. Salon cites a study from AEE member company Opower that found that, nationwide, the Super Bowl actually saves energy, because so many people watch the big game in groups, rather than by themselves.
But then John Avlon of the Daily Beast gets serious, claiming that major power outages in the U.S. have doubled in the past decade, and the Super Bowl blackout is just big enough to get our attention. “Basically, today’s national energy grid is like the overstretched power strip in your college dorm,” writes Avlon. “It’s a patchwork affair, with networks connecting to networks in ways that are tangential and highly unstable. The grid is held together by the infrastructure equivalent of duct tape and prayer.”