Time for Change

A road map to greener power at events, courtesy of Powerful Thinking.

Power is generally one of the five largest single production costs for an event, and the most significant source of environmental impact, particularly in the case of diesel generators. Whatever power source an organiser chooses, the best thing they can do, environmentally and financially, is to try and reduce power use and increase energy efficiency. The next priority is to look at alternatives to fossil fuel dependence, and consider options for low or zero carbon energy sources.

Using facts and figures, we hope to demonstrate the importance of reducing power usage at outdoor events, offering ways in which this can be achieved and providing case studies from different areas of the outdoor event industry.

Why consider energy usage?

  • The UK Festival Industry uses in excess of 12 million litres of diesel annually

  • 99% of UK outdoor event power is derived from diesel generators (The Power Behind Festivals report, 2012)

  • Power can represent up to 70% of an event’s carbon emissions (excluding audience travel)

  • Research suggests that inefficient generator use is common at events in the UK (The Power Behind Festivals report, 2012)

  • The main cause of fuel wastage is lack of information about requirements and lack of communication between contractors and events, events and suppliers (The Power Behind Festivals report, 2012)

  • Fuel costs are rapidly rising, and the energy market is forecast as increasingly volatile

  • The outdoor event sector has a unique opportunity to contribute to carbon reduction, showcase new technologies and engage with audiences

  • Efficient energy management can lead to costs savings.

Reducing energy use and impacts will:

  • Save money – improved knowledge when choosing power types, understanding power demands and structuring energy contracts to promote fuel efficiency allows organisers to reduce fuel waste and overhead costs

  • Improve your brand/reputation – energy efficiency can improve an event’s green credentials, demonstrate innovation and provide an opportunity to engage with attendees about energy awareness

  • Reduce carbon emissions – if the UK’s summer festivals cut their diesel consumption by 10%, more than one million litres of diesel and more than 3,000 tonnes of C02 would be saved in one year alone.

Five Point Plan
The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) and Powerful Thinking have developed the following tips to provide inspiration for event organisers who wish to reduce the environmental impact associated with their power usage.

1. Know Your Power
Power is often an area that event organisers have not taken the time to investigate (we are busy people), but it may be worth doing so in order to help achieve reductions in costs and emissions, whatever type or scale of event you are managing.

Top Tip: You can find comprehensive and free information about managing energy at outdoor events at www.powerfulthinking.org.uk, which includes a 30-page guide to energy management for events, case studies and the full Energy fact sheet series.

2. Reduce Power Demand
Look at how power is currently being managed and consumed. Some events will have good information about previous years from their power provider(s), and others will have nothing. Either way, begin the conversation with your power provider about opportunities to reduce demand – who is using power and can they reduce usage? Often traders and lighting companies can reduce their requirements, and in many cases end-users of power ask for more than they actually need, which can result in significantly oversized generators, unnecessary costs and avoidable fuel consumption.

Top Tip: Ask your power provider to contact all end users to find out their real requirement as part of your contract with them. It may cost extra for this service, but the savings will likely outweigh this as a result of the confidence in specifications leading to smaller generators and less fuel usage.

3. Consider Renewable Sources
Solar, WVO (reprocessed waste vegetable oil), biofuel and wind power are all renewable energy sources and are carbon zero-rated. Solar and or hybrid (or even pedal power) systems can often be good solutions for:

  • Small to medium sized music stages – a very visible demonstration of commitment to renewable power

  • Campsite lighting eg LED festoon – these run silently so will make for happy campers

  • Box offices – the first point of contact for most attendees, often have low power needs, and may be in outlying areas where power isn’t otherwise provided

  • Production compound – the first area set up and the last to leave, so a great opportunity for fuel saving over a longer time period

  • Pumps for on-site water management and distribution

  • Overnight on stages when lower power supply is required.

Top Tip: Check the GreenArts marketplace for green power suppliers across the UK (www.greenartsmarketplace.com). For detailed information about power types see Powerful Thinking’s fact sheets. When comparing prices, remember that there is no fuel cost to add on for solar or wind solutions.

4. Make a Plan
Develop an aim or target – this might be to reduce fuel consumption by 10% a year for three years, or to use a designated percentage of renewable power. Work with your power provider to decide how best to achieve this, and accept that it may take more than one year to make fundamental changes to your approach. In some cases you may have to take the initiative if a secondary supplier is needed or the current supplier is reluctant to change the way they work.

Remember that the overwhelming evidence is that most events can reduce fuel consumption, and many have already achieved significant reductions.

Top Tip: Use the contract between you and your power provider to make clear the targets you expect to meet, and to introduce new elements such as LED festoon lighting.

5. Monitoring, Reporting and Communication
Good information is vital for making rational decisions about improving efficiency and reducing fuel consumption year-on year.

Stipulate that you require a post-event report as part of the contract with at least the following information:

  • monitoring information for each generator showing power load versus capacity
  • final map of generator locations with sizes for reference in planning
  • recommendations for efficiency saving in next year.

A recent study by Bucks New University and A Greener Festival (2012) discovered that 90% of the audience surveyed think that environmental performance is the responsibility of the organisers. So, if you are making an effort to be more sustainable, remember to shout about it!

Top Tip: Stipulate a detailed post-event report on power management.


CASE STUDY: Shambala Festival

  • 7,000 capacity
  • Success in renewable energy
Shambala Festival
Shambala Festival

Over the past five years, Shambala has consistently reduced its fuel dependency by transitioning to renewables and improving on efficiency. In 2013, Shambala was powered by 93% WVO bio-diesel, 1% solar and 6% red diesel – 100% of which was consumed by tower lights. The ambition to be 100% renewable was achieved in 2014 by using biofuel and solar hybrid systems across the site. Onsite biodiesel consumption was reduced by 20% from 2013 to 2014 by using hybrid systems, and there was a 380% kWh increase in renewable energy, which included stages run completely on solar and pedal power.

To assist in reducing the over-specification of generators, Shambala works with its power supplier to gather the power requirements of all end-users. It is also built into the contract that fuel savings are expected year-on-year, with a fixed fee on biofuel costs to create an incentive for the contractor to reduce usage wherever possible. In addition, Shambala stipulates detailed energy monitoring throughout the event, a generator-by-generator post event report, and recommendations for future efficiency gains.

In 2015, the set-up included 22 bio-diesel generators, the full range of Cygnus Hybrid Power (Firefly Clean Energy), 35 portable solar fold-arrays and 10 power packs. All of the site lighting was LED – 12km of festoon lighting and 105 LED Floods; the tower lights were powered by HPG (hybrid power generators).

Shambala Festival has reduced its energy-related greenhouse gas emissions per audience per day by 39.5% between 2013 and 2014, and has reduced its overall onsite carbon footprint by 81% over five years. In 2015, energy (including bottled gas for traders) accounted for 19.6% of the onsite carbon footprint and only 8.53% of the overall footprint when including travel.

An analysis of the costs of energy at the festival over seven years shows that budget per person per day has not increased in real terms, representing a saving if inflation and fuel cost rises are accounted for. While the cost of hiring certain items of equipment has been higher compared to traditional diesel generators in some years, the reduction in total equipment requirements and generator sizes – due to efficiency savings – and in fuel use has outweighed these resulting in cost savings overall.


CASE STUDY: The Showman’s Show

  • 4,500 visitors, 350 exhibitors
  • Audit leads to 50% reduction in diesel use
The Showman's Show
The Showman’s Show

The Showman’s Show is the only outdoor event services exhibition in the UK. It has a wide variety of exhibitors and offers them power supplies for their stands (ranging from 13 amp to 125 amp 3 phase). The organisers have to be prepared for all kinds of power demands at any point during the event and at any location on the showground, and until 2011 this meant hiring large sets of diesel generators to ensure these demands could be met.

In 2012, in support of the Powerful Thinking campaign, the organisers of the Showman’s Show decided to review energy supply and consumption at the event and look at the possibility of alternative power supplies to diesel generators.

The first step was to monitor power usage. At the 2012 event, the electrical contractor monitored the use of all the generator sets throughout the build up to the show and during the event itself. It found that the event was overestimating the size of the generators needed and could afford to reduce the size of the sets while still meeting demand from the service areas and the exhibitors.

A key observation was the energy consumption of the crew catering facility; the catering area is active for two and a half weeks during the build, throughout the show and during the break down. In the past, the catering tent was supplied with its own designated generator to power the cooking facilities, lighting and run heaters (bearing in mind that the event is held in October). Using a more dynamic approach to supplying energy, the catering tent was moved onto the small mains supply – available from the main show ground – during the event build and break down when demand was low. Over the two days of the event itself, when there was more demand on the mains supply from the camping area and welfare units, the catering tent was moved onto a combined set that was already powering the main exhibition hall. When the event was over and the caravans and welfare units had gone, the catering tent was moved back onto the mains supply.

This simple review of generator sizes and a proactive approach to the power supply for the crew catering tent resulted in hiring one less generator and helped to significantly reduce diesel consumption – by over 50%.

In 2015, the Showman’s Show began working with the electrical contractor that also supports the venue on the site where the show is held. It was able to improve the existing electrical infrastructure, reducing energy demand onsite, meaning that the crew catering facility, campsite and site office could run from a mains power supply all through the build, the event itself and the break down, rather than switching to generators during the event as in 2014. They also installed another permanent floodlight, which meant one less lighting tower needed to be shipped in and run.

The other action taken was to simply switch off generators if they weren’t being used; previously generators have been left on during the show build to allow exhibitors to work late at night or early in the morning. The contractors simply noted when work had stopped and then turned generators off so they were not running through the night unnecessarily. This probably made the biggest impact, helping to save over 200 litres of fuel compared to the year before.

These small measures producing such positive results have encouraged the organisers to regularly review the supply of power and to look for ways to further reduce energy consumption.


Powerful Thinking LogoAbout Powerful Thinking
Powerful Thinking was established in 2010 as a not-for-profit industry group focused on tackling energy-related issues at outdoor events. It has provided a forum to support research, explore issues and develop solutions, and has developed free-to-use resources that support events in reducing their environmental impact.

In November 2015, it released the Show Must Go On report, which recognises a broader aspiration in the group to tackle other sustainability-related issues the industry shares. The group has representation from over 250 events through membership organisations.

Visit www.powerful-thinking.org.uk for free tools and resources including a fuel use calculator, fact sheets on different power sources, a list of suppliers and to join Festival Vision: 2025, a shared vision for a sustainable festival industry, where committed festival organisers are pledging to work together to make the festival industry an exemplar of environmental responsibility.

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