Super Bowl 2013 power outage

Monday, February 4, 2013

The National Football League held Super Bowl XLVII last night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The game was interrupted by a power outage just after the second half started, which caused many of the stadium lights and systems to go dark.  Play was delayed for 34 minutes as workers scrambled to resolve the problem.  What happened to the lights at the Super Bowl?

Electric utility Entergy supplies electricity to the Superdome.  According to a statement issued jointly with Superdome manager SMG, load-monitoring equipment sensed "an abnormality in the system".  To protect systems and isolate the issue, that equipment opened a breaker and partially cut the power feed to the facility.  While backup generators kicked in, the backup supply was insufficient to fully power the Superdome's lights and systems.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a significant consumer of electricity.  Statements issued by the Super Bowl New Orleans Host Committee suggest that energy usage for major Super Bowl venues including the Mercedes Superdome, Morial Convention Center, Team and NFL hotels, will consume up to 4,600 megawatts of electricity.  (Note that this statement is improbable - it should likely read 4,600 kilowatts or 4,600 megawatt-hours.  4,600 megawatts would be about 15% of Entergy's 30,000 MW total generating capacity, and represents more power than 4 typical nuclear power plants can produce.  In any event, the Superdome clearly drew a lot of power from the grid.)

The Super Bowl power outage will focus attention on professional sports' approach to energy.  NFL teams and stadium owners have been exploring alternative energy for some time; for example, last year the Philadelphia Eagles considered developing solar panels and wind turbines on their stadium.  Even the Superdome has invested in energy efficiency, developing an efficient exterior LED lighting system in 2011. 

While alternative energy efforts can reduce operating costs and environmental impacts, they are unlikely to completely displace reliance on the utility electric grid.  Stadiums' significant power demands during games far outstrip their electricity consumption at other times.  This means that stadiums would need to install sizable distributed generation to be self-reliant, but would only need to run that generation for a limited number of hours per year -- making the economics of a distributed generation project challenging.

Traditional, utility-supplied power may remain the most cost-effective basis for large stadium electricity supply for now -- but leaves stadiums, players and fans reliant on their public utilities to keep the lights on.  Team and stadium owners eager to avoid the embarrassment and cost of an outage will continue to look for solutions, including more backup generation and more robust grid connections.

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