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How Energy Pros See the Super Bowl

Was the power failure during the Super Bowl a reflection of the aging grid infrastructure? Probably not, but it didn’t stop people close to energy to search for deeper meaning.
February 4, 2013

Somehow a media and sporting event turned into an energy event. The power outage during last night’s Super Bowl brought out a wide range of opinions and reactions, often revealing the person’s point of view on energy.

Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens returns a kick off shortly before the power failure turned off half the lights in the Super Dome.

As most Americans knows by now, a glitch that caused half the lights to go out and cut off the play-by-play announcers delayed the football championship game by more than half an hour. Like millions of others, I fired up Twitter to find out what was going on.

Many people I follow wondered if the local power grid failed. “Half the power in the Super Dome goes out mid-game. Comment on the status of America’s ailing infrastructure?” came one Tweet. Venture capitalists who invest in clean tech were quick to point out that their smart-grid portfolio companies would have prevented such an embarrassing situation. A few others said the business case for making the grid more reliable with energy storage just got stronger or the episode might focus politicians’ attention on energy policy.

It turns out that the local grid was not actually at fault. During the delay, the local utility, Entergy, said that power was being delivered to the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans where the game was being played. Today, Entergy and the facility manager released a statement saying there was an equipment failure on site. 

Shortly after the beginning of the second half of the Super Bowl in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, a piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system.  Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue.

Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed. Entergy and SMG subsequently coordinated start up procedures, ensuring that full power was safely restored to the Superdome.

The fault-sensing equipment activated where the Superdome equipment intersects with Entergy’s feed into the facility.

There were no additional issues detected.

They are still investigating the root cause.

Given that the back-up system worked and the grid itself didn’t fail, it’s hard to make a case that the power failure reflects the antiquated state of the grid in the U.S., which I admit, was also my first reaction.

But publicists and pundits have found other lessons to draw from it all.

Jeff Spence, the president of power protection equipment maker Innovolt said: “The issue can simply be that while the power grid is terribly dated, buildings, including sporting venues, fall victim to internal power issues, like the surge experienced and seen by millions last night.”

Groom Energy Solutions, an energy efficiency services company, noted that the slow return to full brightness highlighted how it takes HID lighting ten to 15 minutes to warm up to full strength, which is painfully slow compared to more efficient and instant-on LED technology. 

Coal producer Peabody Energy somehow managed to connect the power failure to its efforts to defend coal-fired power generation. “Without coal, you might as well turn off half the lights not just for our favorite games but also for our cities, shops, factories and homes” CEO Gregory Boyce said in a statement.

But there isn’t only conjecture and opinion when it comes to energy and the Super Bowl; someone’s actually looking at data, too. Energy efficiency company Opower released an analysis of last year’s energy consumption during the big event and the data revealed some surprises.

By studying power consumption at tens of thousands of U.S. homes, it found there were above-average power spikes before the game as people prepare, but energy use actually dips by about five percent as people get together and huddle around the TV, leaving other jobs like running dishwashers for another time. 

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