The NFL gets competitive over solar stadiums, going green

It seems the NFL can't keep the competition limited to the field, as various iconic stadiums have added solar and renewable energy installations as others rush to get on board. Renewable energy upgrades could power everything from decorative stadium lighting, general stadium power needs and even electric vehicle charging stations.

Those who watched the season opener at the NFL's biggest venue — MetLife Stadium — may have noticed a colorful new ring on the outside of the stadium. The decorative ring was made from 1,350 solar panels that power LEDs, which can change color depending on the teams playing.

Sure, that's a cool diversion, but in reality those solar panels are capable of generating 25 times the power needed to run the colorful LED lights. The entire array generates 350,000 kilowatt hours; power leftover after making the LEDs work is put back into running the rest of the stadium. Approximately 10 percent of the stadium's power needs on game days.

Gillette Stadium, home to the Patriots, is another venue looking to make a mark. With 3,000 solar panels expected to generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours a year, some 60% of the electricity usage at their outdoor shopping and dining venue. The Seattle Seahawks and the Philadelphia Eagles are also on board.

NRG Energy was responsible for both these installation, and is also behind plans for the greening of several other stadiums. According to David Crane, chief executive officer of the company, who was quoted in National Geographic, their business strategy is a simple one, to look for iconic venues across the country that are more horizontal in construction:

"…and it didn't take us long to get to the NFL stadiums," said Crane. "They're big, they're cool, they're usually surrounded by big parking lots," which lend themselves to solar installations."

True, the projects are expensive and the company and the stadiums involved have to consider it a long-term investment to recover costs — 20 years at a minimum given the size of the projects.

But as Crane told National Geographic, there is a larger goal regarding renewable energy at stake:

"On one level, we know that people who are going to football games are going to football games to look at Tom Brady, they're not going to look at our panels on the roof," Crane laughed. Still, the hope is that "fans will look at them and say, 'my team is doing the right thing.' It's really about raising awareness with the fan base."

Though positioned as a long term, future play to raise awareness there are real benefits to be had in the short term. In addition to solar panel prices coming down making installation more realistic, the venues (and vendors) are taking a second pass to add additional renewable features to further green their stadiums and hopefully see greater financial offsets.

Looking beyond powering cool lighting designs there are talks about installing additional solar panels at MetLife Stadium and a wind turbine for Gillette. NRG would also like to install more of their electric vehicle charging stations that were part of the 8,000 panel installation at Redskins' FedEx Field.

The greening of America's stadiums may have started as a play to add a little more bling to the house lights, but given the sheer size and consumptive power of the stadiums it seems they are beginning to see the financial payoff and that's good news.

If one person is takes note of the solar panels or renewable energy features installed at one of their stadiums and wonders why their local mall (American's other giant icons) hasn't gone the same route that could be compelling.

National Geographic, via EarthTechling

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