What’s a big difference between hosting the entire Snowboard World Championships and an event such as the Men’s Parallel GS at the Olympics? If you guessed about 20,000 people, you’re right. While the former might draw 2,000 people in total, one Winter Olympic event will accommodate 10 times as many people on average…and Summer Olympic events are 2-3 times larger still. And all these people require expert planning for a huge increase in energy use – heating, electricity and/or air conditioning – which places a considerable financial and environmental load on the existing generating capacity.
But wait, don’t large stadiums fill this many people all the time? A few NFL arenas routinely accommodate over 80,000 spectators, and many sports boast giant ball parks, yet these stadia are built connected to the power grid and normally don’t require hundreds of propane tanks or diesel generators to operate on a daily basis.
But athletic events which occur occasionally (such as Championships), as well as premier events which overfill their venues, require planning for temporary energy.
Financially, the use of generators is a mixed bag. They allow the event manager flexibility to deploy backup power and heating when and where it is needed, but can be logistically challenging and expensive. And some events require backup power. The consequences of a lighting outage in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies would be a gigantic reputational blow – so much so that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has demanded triple or even quadruple redundancy in some venues.
Environmentally-speaking, it pays to minimize the use of generators as much as possible. Diesel generators in particular are less efficient that the large power plants behind the electrical grid. According to the GHG protocol, it takes 375 liters of diesel to contribute one ton of CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere. And an event such as the Torino Olympics in 2006 burns around 8,000,000 liters of fuel.
For 2010, Vancouver has considered several solutions for reducing generator use. The Games’ urban location and cooperation with BC energy giant BC Hydro has made one solution possible, a decision to install dedicated hi-voltage lines to large temporary venues from various substations within the city. While this may be impractical for other events to replicate, Vancouver has also worked with contractors to minimize the use of generators where possible, from reducing the number of backup heating generators (heating takes less time to be noticed by spectators, as opposed to lighting) to eliminating the need for warm-start generators.
Yet possibly the most important step that Vancouver is taking to reduce fuel consumption is actively tracking and reporting the amount of energy used. In the event-planning industry, it is usually tricky to tease out kilowatt usage from financial receipts – and the financial costs themselves are not always disclosed. Therefore, ensuring contractors and vendors provide energy reports along with the billing is critical to accounting for and reducing the environmental footprint of temporary energy.