U.S. Sports Industry Leads Charge in Meeting Environmental Challenges

by | Mar 29, 2011

The United States sports industry generates $414 billion annually. The amount of energy being consumed is not often thought of by fans when heading to the stadium or ball park. These stadiums, parks and arenas use large quantities of energy to provide the forum for entertainment and experience millions of people enjoy each week. This is true around the world, and across all sports. The environmental challenges that exist are being dealt with across the world, and being lead by sports leagues in North America.

Recently, the Philadelphia Eagles management team announced a partnership with Solar Blue that will effectively take the NFL stadium off-grid. This $30 million will consist of the installation of 80 spiral shaped wind turbines rimming the top of the stadium, and 2,500 solar panels on the facade. The system will also include a 7.5 megawatt cogeneration plant along with a “smart microgrid” system to keep everything running at maximum efficiency. This initiative will be in place by the start of the 2011 football season and be the first self sustaining renewable energy stadium in the United States. The Arizona Cardinals have recently worked with the University of Phoenix to team up with Salt River Project, to provide 100 percent renewable energy to the Arizona Cardinals home stadium. The university is providing 1,135,000 kilowatt-hours of green energy to power Cardinals home games. In 2010, Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, installed a new 525 KW solar system, consisting of 2556 solar panels, to support the energy needs of the stadium, home to football games, soccer games, and concerts.

The NFL isn’t the only league actively looking to improve energy uses. In 2008, Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox installed solar panels that are being used to heat up 37 percent of the stadium’s water, reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 18 tons. The San Francisco Giants home stadium, AT&T Park currently has a 600 panel, 120kW solar system that it uses to power certain parts of the ball park.

The NHL began the NHL Green Initiative in 2007, teaming up with the David Suzuki Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council to increase their involvement in energy and environment conservation. The program promotes the players purchasing clean-air credits to compensate for the extra carbon produced by their extensive travels. Their contributions to the carbon challenge are being used to fund and support the development and improvements of a bio-mass outfit in India, a micro-hydro system in Indonesia and a wind-farm in Madagascar.

Solar energy appears to be leading the way in terms of sports stadiums and arenas. The US Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns, installed 1,125 panels on its parking garage in 2009, helping to offset the energy usage of the arena. Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., recently flipped the switch on an ambitious $16 million, 25-acre solar farm that produces enough energy to power the track and about 1,000 homes. The Staples Center utilizes a 345.6-kilowatt photovoltaic system, consisting of 1,727 solar cells installed on the roof of one of the busiest buildings in sports. The Staples Center is home to the LA Lakers and Clippers of the NBA, Sparks of the WNBA, and the Kings of the NHL.

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and also hopping on the solar energy bandwagon. For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Stadium was designed and built using sustainable materials such as fiberglass and reinforced concrete. The stadium itself was powered entirely by a nearby wind farm specially constructed to power the stadium and provide energy to light up other local attractions. The Dragon Stadium, located in Taiwan, is the world’s greenest stadium. It is not only the greenest stadium it is also the first 100 percent solar powered stadium in the world, powered by its 8,844 solar panels. The Stade de Suisse in Switzerland, has had 7,000 solar panels installed on its roof producing a whooping 1,200,000 kWh annually.

In addition to these efforts that have been made, an effort across all leagues in the United States to improve sustainability is in place. League official of Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League have delivered letters to each of their teams encouraging the use of solar power at their facilities.

The various green initiatives being implemented by the major sports leagues and venues around the world continue to have a positive impact on the fan base, the sponsors, and the teams themselves. These investments are not only beneficial to the environmentally, but also help have money, promote new technologies, and increase the social responsibility of various teams and leagues around the world.

Manniche Alves is a commercialization analyst for Foresight Science and Technology.

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