Green Energy Myth Buster

Common questions about greener energy management at events, with answers from Powerful Thinking.

Green Energy solar panelsQ. Are biofuels bad for the environment
Biofuels, especially palm oil and jatropha, are often cultivated on deforested land, displacing agriculture and indigenous people. The emissions from cutting down the original forest can exceed the emissions saved by displacing the use of a fossil fuel. It’s a complex issue and one of trade-offs, but 100% waste vegetable oil (WVO) or 100% domestic biodiesel such as oilseed rape are widely considered to be ‘green’ fuels.

WVO is used cooking oil which has been prepared for use in generators and it is generally sourced locally. Using it for power keeps it out of the waste stream (including sewers where it can cause blockages) and has far less associated emissions when compared to diesel. As a rule of thumb, biofuels are preferable to fossil fuels, especially when sourced locally.

Q: Isn’t renewable power unreliable?
No. Most newer systems have battery back-ups storing energy and continue to produce power in overcast conditions. Many providers come with a reserve in place. Some also say that as there are no moving parts it is actually more reliable. However, it should be noted that there is more of a need to work out power requirements in advance and in detail to match supply and demand.

Q: Do renewable solutions cost more?
Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t, just like any other power company decision. In many cases where a large amount of power is required (for example above 45kVA), there may not be a viable solution or costs may be prohibitive. But for smaller requirements, you may be able to reduce the amount you need to power in the first place by working efficiently, and use cost-effective renewable solutions.

Feedback from festivals suggests that it is often forgotten that there are no fuel bills post-event for solar and wind systems. There are many examples at small to medium scale events of renewable and hybrid approaches which can deliver cost savings. Savings will be dictated by circumstance, so it is very important to maximise planning and explore all available options.

Green Energy solar panelsQ: Isn’t it the case that we always need a margin of error in the capacity of generators for the unexpected?
Yes, but the Powerful Thinking research this summer suggests that current margins are often excessive.

Q. Can you power entire events on renewable and low carbon solutions?
There are many examples of small to medium festivals (under a capacity of 20,000 people) being entirely powered by renewable and WVO solutions. Examples include Croissant Neuf, London Green Fair, Shambala, The Green Gathering and Sunrise Celebration. Renewable technologies are generally considered not yet capable of wholly powering larger events and stages for very large audiences but a hybrid approach is still both easy and widely in use.

Q. Does festoon lighting need to remain on during the day to manage loads on generators?
Only if those generators are also supplying other requirements, or if a load needs to be maintained on the generator. If a generator is dedicated to festoon lighting it can be switched off. Some companies now have automatic sensors which switch off site lighting, festoon runs and tower lights when daylight emerges.

Q. Do amps and stage lights need to remain on overnight?
Some companies say this is necessary in order to keep equipment warm and avoid condensation, but others say their equipment does not require this. It can depend on the equipment. Either way, it’s worth considering a secondary power source so a main generator can be switched off.


FACTS & Figures

Carbon Emissions by Power Type
• 100% mineral diesel 2.676 kg CO2e per litre
• LPG 1.5 kg CO2e per litre
• Mains electricity (UK average) 0.412 kg CO2e per kWh
• Mains electricity (EU average) 0.350 kg CO2 per kWh
• WVO biodiesel 0.019 kg CO2e per litre
• Wind and solar Zero-rated


Case Studies

Hybrid Power at Secret Garden Party

Secret Garden PartySecret Garden Party (UK, capacity 30,000) saved 3,826 hours of diesel generator runtime by using hybrid systems – which was around 50% of the total runtime. This use of hybrid technology reduced diesel dependency by 10,285 litres. On top of that, the new system saved Secret Garden Party £7,713, and reduced overall carbon emissions for the festival by a staggering 24 tonnes.


Biodiesel at Latitude, Leeds and Reading festivals

LatitudeFestival Republic’s (Event Promoter/Producer of 19 UK/EU Festivals) sustainability policy includes using waste vegetable oil (WVO) biodiesel to power some of the generators at Latitude, Reading and Leeds festivals.
This commitment continues despite there being a limited supply of WVO biodiesel in parts of the country, unpredictable price fluctuations, and a higher cost for sustainable biodiesel in comparison to regular diesel. They now aim for biofuel to make up 15% of the total fuel burned onsite, in line with the Julie’s Bicycle benchmark, and are investigating efficiency measures to reduce the amount of fuel they use in the first instance.


Solar PV at Boom Festival

Boom FestivalBoom Festival (Portugal, capacity 33,333) is powered by a mix of off-grid photovoltaic panels, diesel generators and a 100kW waste vegetable oil (WVO) generator. The festival site, known as Boomland, is home to around 12 long-term residents and the onsite renewable technology is a permanent feature in the community. The residents spend the months between festivals living entirely on renewables, and creating an energy surplus for the next festival. Boom uses 40kWh of solar energy, which is produced onsite, and is in the process of transitioning from diesel to even more off-grid photovoltaic energy. Their largest photovoltaic array comprises of 18 panels, all following the tilt of the sun and producing 13kW per hour per day.


Pedal Power By Reaction Sound System

Pedal PowerReaction Sound System (RSS) uses audience participation to power small to medium-sized stages with specially designed bike generators. The audience can see how much power the pedalled bikes have created through responsive meters that show the energy available in the storage system. The energy from six cyclists can provide quality sound for audiences of up to 2,000, in tents as long as 60 meters. With three adults pedalling hard the speakers can provide enough good quality sound to cater for around 200 people.


About the Author

Powerful Thinking supports smarter practice and innovation in energy management for the outdoor events and music industry. It publishes guidance, tools, provides news and advice, and connects people and companies with good ideas and each other.

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