Saving the stadium: how microgrid integration can improve venues’ disaster survivability

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What do all truly great sports teams have in common? Versatility: They can beat their opponents in a multitude of ways. The Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s most recent dynasty, personify what it means to be truly versatile.

At their best, the Warriors space the floor and facilitate the ball through Steph Curry to set up an efficient offense unlike anything the league has seen before. Let’s say you want to take Curry completely out of the game by devoting a player to locking him off from getting the ball. That’s no issue, they can run isolation offense through Kevin Durant, the most efficient and least guard-able player in the NBA. Durant having a bad night? They can also choose to go big, utilizing Draymond Green alongside one of their litany of centers. Offense just not working tonight? They can run Green, Curry and Bell alongside Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala for as formidable a defensive core as exists.

The point is that versatility is the lynchpin to success and this is just as true for sports teams as it is the stadiums that house them. These stadiums aren’t just event venues, in times of crisis they serve as community shelters.

In 2005, the Louisiana Superdome was used as an emergency shelter for New Orleans residents who were unable to or did not evacuate in the days before Hurricane Katrina’s arrival. Over the course of the storm, the stadium lost power and conditions quickly deteriorated. After a week, evacuees were transported across state lines to Houston, as conditions in the stadium had fallen apart. When the dust settled, three people had died within the stadium.

The horrific conditions within the Superdome showed that traditional backup power generation is insufficient in major times of crisis. In the past decade, we’ve seen more and more stadiums turn to solar power to help supply some of their energy needs. Solar powered microgrids could be the key to providing the next generation of disaster relief at stadiums housing evacuees, according to Mark Feasel, VP of the electric utility segment & smart grid at Schneider Electric.

“You’ve got to think about ways of providing energy when roads are down, when traffic lights are out, when normal transportation is disrupted,” Feasel told pv magazine. “There’s a revolution going on there. In the past, you would have seen, from an energy cost point of view, not a lot of options: procuring energy from your grid, dealing with the high demand charges, maybe doing things like some sort of energy solution to meet that peak. With a microgrid you’re really able to address all those things: sustainability and the peakiness, which plays into the cost and resilience, all in one solution.”

Feasel argues that the true benefit that microgrids provide come from their resiliency and effectivity in the stadium’s power needs outside of disaster events. Traditional infrastructure has been dependent upon predictions and assumptions of what a facility will need to provide, given a worst-case possibility, like Katrina. The advantage of renewably powered microgrids come in their connectivity to weather services. Through this connectivity the grid can adapt in real time, providing a system not with the goal of surviving the worst-case scenario, but one that is ‘situationally aware’ and able to handle different issues as independent situations, rather than bracing for the worst.

“If a storm is likely to occur there’s things that should be done proactively to prepare for that,” said Feasel. “Backup generation could be started, batteries could be charged up, we could turn off non-prioritized loads. We can do all sorts of things that allow the stadium not only to survive a storm, but allow it to get to the right operating conditions for after the storm.”

This resiliency is critical to minimizing damage to a stadium during a storm. The Superdome’s power failure during Katrina – in conjunction with the stadium’s aging infrastructure – led not only to the removal of evacuees from the rapidly deteriorating stadium, but a $185 million repair cost.

Outside of disaster management and recovery, Feasel outlines that microgrids can be utilized in managing a stadium’s day-to-day energy use, which has been the main driving force behind many franchise’s installations.

“You could’ve had a microgrid 10 years ago that you could set up for some worst-case scenario, but it would only operate during that scenario. It wasn’t designed to operate normally and provided no value: it was pretty much just a stranded cost sitting there. Modern microgrids that you’re leveraging low-cost solar energy, or wind or fuel cells or whatever else you’re going to use can be designed to operate through normal loads and abnormal loads. So, you’re getting a lot more utilization out of those assets.”

Pro sports venues serve their communities by providing entertainment during the season and  shelter in times of need. By coupling microgrid integration with the renewable energy production that many franchises already exploring, these stadiums can better manage their in-season energy costs, while providing a better-prepared shelter in case of emergency.