Energy Efficiency Scores Big at Super Bowl LI, But the New Falcons Stadium Will Raise the Bar

With Super Bowl LI fast approaching, viewing parties being planned and betting pools circulating around the office, of course the first thing we are all thinking about is energy efficiency! Just kidding. But even though it might not be front of mind, energy efficiency is making a big impact behind the scenes at one of the biggest sporting events of 2017.

As we previously reported, this year’s big event is certainly not the first time that environmentally friendly practices made Super Bowl headlines, and we are glad that things keep getting better and better in the ever-greener world of football.

When the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots compete for the coveted National Championship in Houston this Sunday, they will face off in one of the only National Football League (NFL) stadiums to have LED lights. And with all those bright stadium lights, energy efficient LEDs can yield a lot of savings. In this case, the LED lights at NRG Stadium in Houston use 60 percent less energy than before.

That’s a pretty green move for a stadium named after a company that owns coal plants within its diverse power plant portfolio. Also to their credit in the realm of green football, NRG Energy installed 8,000 solar panels at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.

I have to admit, I am not much of a football fan nowadays, but as a Southerner, I do tend to watch a bit of it in social gatherings at the very least, and I have supported friends who are diehard Falcons fans. While I cannot deny my regional bias for the Dirty Birds, since the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization, it might be best not to officially endorse a team.

However, I will say this: besides their warm climate and friendly locals, one other thing the Atlanta Falcons have going for them is their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening next season to replace the long-beloved Georgia Dome (the largest covered stadium in the world when it opened in 1992).

Nostalgia aside, the new stadium is definitely an upgrade when it comes to clean energy and energy efficiency. As the NFL’s first-ever LEED Platinum venue, it’s “expected to save more than 40 percent in energy usage as compared to a typical stadium design.” It will also be over 40 percent more efficient in its water usage compared to the Georgia Dome. In addition to LEDs, the Mercedes-Benz stadium’s amazingly cool-looking retractable roof (inspired by the oculus in the ancient Roman Pantheon) will also allow the use of daylight, and the stadium’s energy use will be partially offset by solar panels.

Credit: http://www.atlantafalcons.com/news/new-stadium/article-1/Mercedes-Benz-Named-Partner-of-New-Stadium/bded0da1-6b84-4fb0-b548-3ebb8ce36322

As an extra point, if you will, the stadium will feature a five-story-tall LED video board that wraps 360 degrees around the grandstands and will seize the title of largest screen in the world. As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons and contractor Daktronics said “the ‘first-of-its-kind’ board will be ‘three times as large as the current largest single display board in the NFL,’ installed last year at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field.” Aside from the main 63,800-square-foot video board, Daktronics is also installing 20,000 square feet of additional LED screens around the stadium.

All in all, this might be the top contender for the 2017 Greatest-Stadium-on-Earth Award if you ask me (disclaimer: not a real award as far as I know), and energy efficiency played a big role in making that happen. But with efficient technology marching ahead and stadiums being built all over the world, it is unlikely to be the G.O.A.T.

At the annual conference hosted by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance in fall 2014, I had the pleasure of seeing Scott Jenkins, general manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, deliver a keynote address about the facility’s energy efficient design. On top of the stadium’s reduced energy usage and major financial savings, we learned that there are many ancillary benefits of using energy efficient technology in stadium design. An obvious one is that LEDs put out virtually no heat compared to blazing-hot metal halide stadium lights, so the HVAC system takes less energy to keep the stands cool even in preseason Hotlanta. Another significant benefit is that it is very difficult and dangerous to change burned out stadium lights, and LEDs can last more than five times longer than metal halide stadium lights; they also don’t change hues with age. If that isn’t enough, LEDs also don’t require a warm-up period, and they and don’t run the risk of exploding above unsuspecting fans.

Finally, and this is a big one for the fan experience, LEDs provide much brighter, clearer and and more accurate viewing both in-person and from home. Thanks to their broad visible light spectrums, LEDs are able to provide very clear light, closer to daylight than outdated lighting technologies. In fact, some communities in the Southeast and elsewhere have turned to LEDs to prevent crime at night, with criminal activity being less likely to occur in well-lit spaces, and as an added benefit, eyewitness descriptions are becoming more accurate since the deployment of LED streetlights, according to some police.

A big reason that LEDs are especially better for broadcasting has to do with flicker – the fast rate at which a light turns on and off due to alternating current. Not to get too technical into my potentially flawed non-engineer’s understanding of it all, but LEDs have little to no flicker, something that can noticeably impact visual clarity with metal halide lights, especially on television, which displays static images at a normal speed of 24 frames per second (FPS) and will oscillate in a conflicting frequency with light flicker, which occurs at a steady 120 hertz. The more FPS, the more the recorded image shows the light flicker, and it can make a significant impact, particularly in broadcasting slow-motion replays, which have a baseline frame rate of 120 FPS (and rising to 300 FPS and beyond as technology improves and allows for even slower-motion jitter-free video). At 120 FPS, if the stadium lights and cameras are harmonically imbalanced, especially if they are exactly 180 degrees out of phase, it seems to me like you could lose a lot image accuracy given that the light would be flashing on and off at exactly the same rate as the images being captured. And sure, there are digital technologies that help minimize this effect, but in short, LEDs will make slow-motion replay and televised football in general look way better for the discriminating viewers among us.

Any large sporting event like the Super Bowl uses a ton of energy, and it’s great to see that energy-conscious facilities managers like Mr. Jenkins are staying on the cutting edge of energy efficiency and clean energy while simultaneously continuing to improve the fan experience. We can all feel a little better about ourselves indulging a bit in Super Bowl party snacks and refreshments while knowing that the most popular sport in America keeps getting greener and greener. Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, it’s clear that the Falcons have scored a major touchdown with their new state-of-the-art LEED Platinum stadium, and I look forward to seeing even more energy efficient stadiums in years to come.

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