From Glastonbury to Euro 2016: the demands of powering a summer to remember

Stage at a festival with crowd - E.ON
Posted 17/06/2016 by E.ON

Are you one of those gripped by Euro 2016 fever? Or maybe you’re more into the oval ball game, getting up early to watch the rugby currently taking place in Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps you’re a tennis fan, looking forward to seeing Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Or if music is more your thing, then you’ll no doubt be watching Glastonbury, Reading, or one of the hundreds of other festivals taking place in Britain these next few months.

2016 promises to be a summer to remember, with plenty of events to keep us all entertained. Whatever occasion you’re most excited by, they all require a whole lot of energy to bring them to life. And that can be tricky.

The people behind these events want them to be as energy efficient as possible, as cost efficient as possible, and to run as smoothly as possible. That all requires a lot of planning. So how do the organisers prepare? What do they need to know? And what do they do when it all goes wrong? We thought now was the perfect time to take a look… 

How much energy does a big event use?

football stadium, Rio 2014 - E.ON

That all depends on the size of your event. The 2014 World Cup in Rio De Janeiro, for instance, was said to have burnt through enough energy to fuel more than half a million cars for a year. Meanwhile Glastonbury uses over 30,000 megawatts of electricity during its festival – a consumption usually more associated with a small city.

A recent report suggested that the UK events sector uses around 12 million litres of diesel each year, and for many festivals, power is one of the five largest single production costs that it has to consider. 

How do the organisers handle it?

Through a lot of planning. Organisers work with everyone from energy companies to the National Grid to ensure that enough power is able to be generated to their event - and in the most effective way possible. They’ll be thinking beyond the initial event site too. Can they cope with the additional energy generated by nearby food vendors? Have they considered the wider transport implications with people travelling in?

If they’re running off a grid connection (mains electricity), they need to know they’re able to cope so things don’t get overloaded and everything goes dark. But for many festivals and temporary events, additional generators are also used to meet power requirements so that they can cope with the periods of high demand. That could include diesel generators, which mixes a diesel engine with an electrical generator to generate electrical energy, or a biodiesel generator, which generates energy using plants or plant by-products such as paper or oil. Other event organisers are looking at further renewable energy sources to power the fun. But more on that later.

What about those not in attendance?

football match on TV and remote control - E.ON

In many cases, these people are even more of a consideration. You may have 100,000 in attendance at your sporting event or festival, but there’ll be millions more watching at home. Just recently, for instance, the England v Russia game in Euro 2016 generated the biggest UK TV audience of the year so far. That means a lot of televisions using power, a lot of lights on and parties being held, and a lot of kettles all going on simultaneously at half time. The National Grid needs to plan weeks ahead for such events, so that it can cope with a sudden surge in demand.

Football tournaments are always an issue here – the record for energy surges in the UK have occurred during England’s match with Germany in the 1990 World Cup, and their 2002 quarter final World Cup game against Brazil. But the National Grid operations team has to be ready for showpieces of all shapes and sizes – they even need to plan how to cope with big surges during Strictly Come Dancing or particularly high profile episodes of shows like Coronation Street or Emmerdale too.

What happens when things go wrong?

The lights go out. Literally. You might think such major events wouldn’t suffer from genuine blackouts, but they do unfortunately happen. It’s why those teams of experts work so hard to ensure that events and regions are able to deal with the additional strain put on the power supply.

Perhaps the most famous recent example of an event losing power was the 2013 Super Bowl. Just a couple of minutes into the third quarter, the game – dubbed ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ was plunged into darkness due to a 22-minute partial power outage. A tripped relay cable was to blame, and caused a 34-minute delay to the game. When the lights went out, the Baltimore Ravens were leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6. After play resumed, the 49ers found a new lease of life and almost completed a dramatic turnaround. They narrowly came up short, losing 34-31, but just imagine the uproar from conspiracy theorists if they’d won! That’s the type of scenario these organisers want to avoid.  

Are events becoming more sustainable?

That’s the plan and major events are working hard to do so. Glastonbury, for instance, is encouraging people to car share to minimise travel pollution. It has also installed 1500 square meters of solar panels at the festival’s site, and a number of designated stages and café areas are all powered by either the sun or wind. Even the showers are solar powered.

The London 2012 Olympic Games also played a huge part in revolutionising sustainable events. The venues were designed to maximise energy conversion, while venue users were trained in the efficient use of energy systems. Smart.

 What is E.ON doing to help?

ACC Liverpool, lights and seating - E.ON

E.ON is committed to helping all customers become more sustainable and save money on their energy bills. So we work with large organisations – including event holders – to ensure they’re managing their energy in the smartest ways. ACC Liverpool is the only purpose-built interconnected arena, convention and exhibition centre in Europe. This centre holds dozens of high profile international events every year, and we’ve helped the venue become the most sustainable of its kind.

Even if you’re not holding big events, there’s plenty of ways you can take this inspiration and save money personally too. We understand that, just like these big events, saving energy is important to every customer. Which is why we’ve created E.ON Optimum. This allows you to do everything from comparing your energy to other similar E.ON customer’s in your area, to providing you with a breakdown of monthly energy costs. It could help you start using no more energy than you need, saving money in the process!

What happens next?

Events and venues are becoming more and more sustainable, but the hard work is only just beginning. Many festivals have taken the Festival Vision 2025 pledge to reduce festival-related annual emissions by 50 per cent over the next nine years. And some of the larger annual events like Glastonbury and the Melt! Festival in Germany are dedicating stages and areas that are powered by and raising awareness of renewable energy.

Meanwhile FIFA conducted its own studies of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups to see how it could be more energy efficient for future tournaments. It found, for instance, that by reducing the number of international staff travelling to the event by just 10 per cent, they could reduce the tournament’s carbon footprint by 6 per cent. Not bad.

It’s things like these that organisers of big events and big venues are constantly looking for. It will signal significant progress in the quest for a more sustainable future. But the next time you head to a major music festival or settle down in front of the TV to see England get knocked out of a tournament on penalties again, just remember how much work is going on behind the scenes to ensure the lights stay on! 

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