Super Bowl’s Green Stadiums: MetLife and Others Tackle Energy Efficiency

  • MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
    Photograph courtesy Jim Sulley, NRG
  • MetLife Stadium will light up in bright orange, blue, and green lights when the Denver Broncos play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

    The striking display that rings the top of the stadium is powered by LED light bulbs, which are already energy-efficient—but they are made even more so by the power source that runs along the same track. The 1,350 solar panels installed on the ring can generate enough electricity to power the colorful lights and other operations.

    MetLife Stadium—home to the New York Jets and the New York Giants—won the bid to host Super Bowl XLVIII one month after it opened in 2010, and the stadium staff have been preparing ever since.

    Energy savings are part of the plan: In addition to the solar ring, the stadium has initiated composting, water conservation, and building controls that have helped reduce electricity use by nearly 20 percent over the past three years.

    MetLife Stadium is the only one in the U.S. to have lined its circumference with solar, as noted in a 2013 EPA report on the facility’s efforts, but it is certainly not alone in boosting sustainability efforts. Several sports facilities in recent years have installed solar panels, efficient lighting, and other measures designed to reduce the impact of their large-scale operations. (See related story: “Super Bowl Caps Banner Season in NFL Green Drive.”)

    Another part of MetLife’s Super Bowl plan: Avoiding a repeat of last year’s power outage. The stadium has installed an extra power line and generators to be sure that the game goes on uninterrupted. (See related story: “Keeping the Super Bowl Lights On: An Extra Line, Generators in Place.”)

    —Angie McPherson, Amy Sinatra Ayres, and Jeff BarkerPublished February 1, 2014

  • The Louisiana Superdome is seen at night in a multiple-exposure photograph.Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
    Multiple-exposure photograph by Gerard Lodriguss, Getty Images

    Last year’s showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers was more memorable for its plunge into darkness than for any play on the field. An electrical malfunction caused the lights at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome to go out for 34 minutes, interrupting the game’s second half.

    The NFL later confirmed that a faulty relay device—intended, ironically, to prevent a power failure—was to blame for the outage. The stadium’s electricity supplier, Entergy, said the device had been taken permanently out of service. (See related stories: “What Caused the Super Bowl Blackout at the Superdome?” and “Super Bowl Blackout: Was It Caused by Relay Device, or Human Error?“)

    The outage was another blow to a city—and stadium—that had spent more than seven years battling back from natural and ecological disaster. New Orleans aimed to set a new mark for environmental sustainability with its ninth turn at hosting the NFL’s marquee event, reflecting a broader green movement that is changing the look of stadiums and attitudes throughout the sports world.

    Despite the electricity mishap, the Superdome remains outfitted with protective and energy-saving features installed during a $336 million restoration of the “refuge of last resort” for 30,000 people during Hurricane Katrina. The stadium’s outer wall has a specially designed double barrier system with improved insulation and rainwater control. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it is now known, is ringed with 26,000 LED lights, covering two million square feet and supported by five miles of copper wiring, but which draw only ten kilowatts of electricity—as much as a small home.

    The stadium stands as an example for “not just rebuilding what was there before, but making it more environmentally sound,” said Patty Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility for Entergy.

    Entergy donated carbon credits—investments in projects that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—to offset the estimated 3.8 million pounds of emissions expected to be generated due to energy use at the Super Bowl venues. New Orleans’ Second Harvest Food Bank recovered approximately 36,000 pounds of unused foodfrom all Super Bowl events to donate to those in need. And two nonprofits, the Green Project REPurposingNolaand, reclaimed Super Bowl banners, displays, and other promotional items to be recycled into souvenir items such as tote bags, wallets, and shower curtains. Signage will again be donated for repurposing at this year’s event.

    The Host Committee organized a Super Bowl Saturday day of service focused on continuing restoration. New Orleans is one of the most deforested cities in the United States, having lost 100,000 trees to Katrina’s wind and standing saltwater. The urban forestry initiative Hike for KaTreena planted its 20,000th tree that Super Bowl weekend, and planted 7,000 of them just for the game (a Super Bowl tree-planting record). And because that Saturday was World Wetlands Day, local students joined a coastal restoration project in Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge coordinated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose then-administrator, Lisa Jackson, is a New Orleans native.

    Published February 1, 2014

  • Small wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa.Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
    Photograph by Brian Garfinkel, AP

    No matter the fortunes of the Eagles on the field, Philadelphia has led the NFL for a decade in green initiatives, capped by the 14 distinctive micro wind turbines that now crown Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

    The turbines, seven above each end zone, were installed in November by New York City-based Urban Green Energy. (Related: “Helix Collapse Fails to Crush Hopes for Vertical Wind Turbines“) It’s part of what Natural Resources Defense Council called “the most extensive onsite renewable system of any U.S. sports stadium,” including 2,500 solar panels and a generator that can run on natural gas or biodiesel.

    Lincoln Financial Field is the first professional stadium in the United States capable of generating all its electricity on site. But the Eagles also purchase 14 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy credits annually, meaning that 100 percent of the team’s operations are powered by clean energy. The Eagles also have adopted aggressive energy-conservation and waste-reduction measures. The team switched to recycled paper products nearly a decade ago, and about 75 percent of stadium waste is now recycled.

    The NRDC report notes that there are quarterly meetings among NFL teams to exchange ideas on greening their stadiums and operations.

    Last year’s Super Bowl teams also were in on the greening game. The Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadiumrecently become the first existing NFL stadium to receive certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program for energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive operations and management, earning a Gold rating. The San Francisco 49ers are also seeking LEED certification for their new stadium now being built in Santa Clara, California. The stadium will feature solar-array-covered bridges, a solar canopy above the green roof on the suite tower portion of the stadium, and solar panels over the 49ers training center. The effort is being led by NRG Energy, which has spearheaded other sports stadium renewable-energy efforts.Published February 1, 2014

  • Solar panels in the stadium's canopy at Gillette Stadium.Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
    Photograph courtesy Michelle McLoughlin, NRG

    The home of the New England Patriots, which has been topped with a solar array since 2009, ramped up energy from the sun in 2013 with a solar canopy and a set of rooftop panels at adjacent Patriot Place, an outdoor shopping and dining center. The combination of 3,000 solar panels generates 60 percent of Patriot Place’s electricity use. In 2013, the facility added its first electric-vehicle charging station.

    NRG spearheaded the project as part of its “icon strategy,” where the company looked for well-known structures in the United States that were “more horizontal construction-and it didn’t take us long to get to the NFL stadiums,” said Crane in a 2012 interview. “They’re big, they’re cool, they’re usually surrounded by big parking lots,” which lend themselves to solar installations.

    Crane declined to reveal specific price tags for the projects, but said they tend to run in the “several million” dollar range. (See related post: “NFL Season Opener Under the Solar Powered Lights.”)

    And how long does it take for a stadium to recover those costs with energy savings?

    “In terms of the return on the investment, we’re used to getting a return over a fairly long term in our industry,” Crane said. “Any investment we do, we calculate over a 20-year term.”

    But he said solar isn’t as expensive as it once was. “The price of solar panels has dropped precipitously,” Crane said. Most of the costs at the stadiums are associated with their highly stylized looks and the installation work that involves. “You can’t do computer-driven LED lighting and achieve the same price point as you can for lining up solar panels in a desert.” (Which is what many of the company’s lower-profile installations involve.)

    “On one level, we know that people who are going to football games are going to football games to look at Tom Brady, they’re not going to look at our panels on the roof,” Crane laughed. Still, the hope is that “fans will look at them and say, ‘my team is doing the right thing.’ It’s really about raising awareness with the fan base.”

    Published February 1, 2014

  • Solar panels in the parking lot at FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland.FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
    Photograph by Max Taylor

    The Washington Redskins unveiled an installation of 8,000 solar panels at FedEx Field at the start of the 2011 season.

    Team sponsor NRG Energy designed the panels to have an impact that select fans experience the moment they arrive at the lot at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The panels are installed above 841 premium parking spaces across the street from the stadium.

    The project’s most prominent feature is the parking structure, which looks like a series of carports and contains more than 7,600 of the panels (manufactured by SunPower). A combination of translucent and conventional solar panels collect energy above a stadium ramp. A third variety of solar panel, a thin-film product made byKonarka Technologies, is contained in a 30-foot (9-meter) sculpture of a silhouetted football player throwing a pass.

    There are two electric-vehicle charging stations in the lot where the solar panels are located, and eight more charging stations in an adjacent lot. NRG said the solar installation, the largest in the NFL (at one of the league’s largest stadiums), will produce up to two megawatts of electrical capacity—enough to provide up to 20 percent of the stadium’s power on game days and to meet the building’s needs on nongame days. (You can see a time-lapse video of the installation here.) “One of the really innovative things that NRG has done is show how solar power can be integrated into an existing structure,” said NRG spokesman Stephen Morisseau.

    Published February 1, 2014

  • Solar installation on CenturyLink Field, Seattle CenturyLink Field, Seattle
    Photograph courtesy Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

    Forget that Seattle is known for rain and clouds. “I think the cloudiness factor is more mythological than real,” Seahawks team president Peter McLoughlin said in an interview in 2011, when the team unveiled the 3,750-panel array that now adorns the roof of CenturyLink Field.

    The project at CenturyLink Field (seen here)—home to Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders as well as the Seahawks—was seen as a breakthrough when it was being constructed because it doesn’t need direct sunlight. The technology, thin-film photovoltaic material around a unique 360-degree cylindrical surface was the signature achievement of Solyndra, the bankrupt California energy company. (Related: “Solar Energy ‘Darwinism’ Weeding Out Weaker Companies“)

    Despite Solyndra’s failure amid bruising competition in the solar industry, solar is still shining at CenturyLink Field, generating more than 800,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, which meets 30 percent of the facility’s energy needs.

    This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.