Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

13 Mar 2014

Sports and renewable energy

Posted by Michael Keating

Guest blog By David Letteney

As renewable energy is playing a larger role in the world’s energy mix there is a clear trend that sports clubs are starting to use green energy as a way to reduce costs, create positive public relations and show they want to reduce their pollution and carbon footprints.

This is significant because sports events, sports clubs, and individual sportspersons have tremendous power to influence. Billions of people watch the world cup, and the Olympics incorporate almost every nation on the planet. Home teams dominate the local news, and the local news media surround local players, hanging on their every word. As Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council stated, “Thirteen per cent of Americans follow science, Sixty-one per cent follow sports. If you want to change the world, you have to go where the people are.”

This change in the use of renewable energy in sport can be traced from the last World Cup, the Olympics, English football, U.S. college football, the U.S. National Football League, tennis, hockey and even professional motor racing.

World Cup 2010

The World Cup in South Africa was one of the first World Cups to use a wind turbine as a direct renewable energy source. The Nelson Mandela Bay Football Stadium in Port Elizabeth had a single 1.8MW Vestas V90 turbine, which reportedly was able to produce 5.7 million kWh of renewable energy per year. While this in itself was ground breaking, more importantly this turbine was to be part of a larger South African 25-wind farm. While wind farm technology in Africa was present before the world cup, its use in a major sporting event increased its visibility in a country that is chronically short of energy.

A Chinese solar company became the first official renewable energy company to help sponsor a World Cup, and built 20 solar panel powered football centres. They are continuing this sponsorship for the Brazil 2016 World Cup, with an eye on an increased role in building solar panels for football stadiums and football-related activities. Qatar, which hosts the World Cup in 2022, is trying to deal with the criticism of hosting a world cup in extremely high temperatures by promising to use revolutionary solar technologies and advanced battery storage to cool stadiums.

The Olympics

The 2012 Olympics in London incorporated multiple green technologies, including renewable energy. The games were able to reach an 11 per cent renewable energy figure using biomass boilers, solar panels and small vertical wind turbines. While this was less than the original goal of 20 per cent, it was still an important first step for an Olympic games, which allowed millions of television viewers and visitors to see the solar panels and wind turbines in use in the Olympic park.

This marriage of renewable energy is continuing in Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. A large solar “Eco Tower” is being built close to the city. The tower will use solar panels to generate power, and will collect seawater, which will then be released into turbines to create electricity at night.

English soccer

English football (soccer) is watched by millions of fans inside and outside of Europe. Arsenal FC, an internationally known football club and Forest Green Rovers FC, a small club unknown outside of England, have ensured that their stadiums are powered at least in part by renewable energy. Dartford FC was one of the first English football clubs to commit itself to multiple green stadium features, including solar panels for hot water heating. Another internationally-known English football club, Newcastle United, purchased renewable energy credits in 2012 to help offset their carbon emissions. These renewable energy decisions by football clubs with passionate supporters may influence fans to embrace renewable energy in their own lives.

American college football

Americans have a reputation for being passionate sports fans. Approximately 135 million adults and their families visit 130 pro sports stadiums each year. Another 100 million visit nearly 700 major collegiate stadiums and arenas each year. Arizona State University, a major sporting college, has embraced solar power with enthusiasm. As of 2013, Arizona State reported that they have built 72 solar projects on five campuses, which generate 20.8 megawatts of power. There are another with 2.7 megawatts of solar panels in the planning phase. The solar projects are found in multiple sporting venues, including stadium parking lots and softball and football stadiums. The total investment was over $15 million, but tax credits, rebates and the ability to sell renewable energy credits convinced the university it was a good long-term financial and green.

American professional football

In American professional football it would be difficult to find a team more committed to renewable energy than the Philadelphia Eagles. The owners have embraced environmental technologies for years, and have installed 14 vertical wind turbines, as well as more than 11,000 solar panels on the stadium roof and nearby roofs of parking lots and other buildings, producing approximately 720,000 kilowatts of power for the club.

Eagles’ officials stated that during sunny non-game days, the stadium is able to produce a surplus of renewable energy for the power grid. On game days, the turbines and solar panels supply approximately 30 per cent of the energy needed, and the team purchases renewable energy credits to cover the remaining 70 per cent. To pay for the project, Eagles’ officials entered a power sharing agreement. The system installer agreed to pay for and operate the $30 million system, and in turn receives the rebates, tax benefits and renewable energy credits. The Eagles avoid large capital costs, budget for a fixed electricity cost and proudly show their fans and community their commitment to reducing pollution and carbon dioxide. LED lights on their panels in the form of the Eagles logo, advertises their commitment to solar energy.

Similar but smaller scale projects are scheduled for the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. In a New York stadium, home of the New York Jets and New York Giants, 1,350 solar panels were installed, and they double as a lighting spectacle. It is unclear whether this is a trend that could interest all 32 NFL teams, but it appears to be a step in the right direction for renewable energy and American football.

Auto racing

Even in the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR), a sport run on fossil fuels, renewable energy has been used as a viable alternative to help power a raceway. The owners of the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania invested in over 30,000 solar panels in a solar farm. The system cost approximately $15 million, and generates approximately 4 megawatts of energy. Due to a lack of state rebates and low renewable energy credit prices, the owners of Pocono estimated that they will not receive a return on their investment for approximately 15 years, but they felt that this was a smart long-term business investment, and would resonate positively with their fans. They claimed that NASCAR fans were more likely than the general population to consider themselves green and would want NASCAR to behave itself in an environmental responsible way.


In 2013, the US Open, one of four grand slam tournaments, announced that 100 per cent of their tournament energy use would be offset with green e-certified wind renewable energy certificates.


The US Environmental Protection Agency has formed a green power partnership with the National Hockey League, encouraging individual teams to buy green power. The New York Rangers led the way by purchasing over 100 per cent of their power using green renewable energy credits. In 2012 the NHL bought purchasing renewable energy certificates for arena electricity consumption for the Stanley Cup playoffs.


These are just some examples of clubs or organizations that have chosen to use renewable energy. However, these are more the exception, as renewable energy does not appear to be a priority for many sporting clubs or organizations. Nor does it always appear to be heavily advertized by all of the clubs and organizations that have embraced it. The reasons for this can be a perceived lack of interest by many fans, a perception that switching to renewable will cost more, or a lack of capital or expertise to invest in renewable projects.

To be fair, many sports clubs and even large international sporting bodies face difficult challenges. They often have tight budgets, extremely tight deadlines, limited staff and limited expertise or interest in pursuing renewable energy projects. These challenges are identical to those many small and medium businesses face every day.

However, sporting organizations and clubs are a unique conduit to millions of passionate fans, and should be encouraged to invest in and advertise their use of renewable energy. They have the potential to educate millions of people who perhaps never considered green alternatives. They could use informational spots on large stadium screens, green logos on ads, and statements by management and star athletes saying that renewable energy is a valuable tool for energy independence and to combat climate change. This can give green energy the exposure it needs to help convince politicians to help it grow from a small percentage of today’s energy picture to a reliable primary source of energy.

David Letteney dwlett@gmail.com is a sustainable sports consultant based in Canada.


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