NFL Season Opener Under the Solar-Powered Lights

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of National Geographic. Author credit goes to Amy Sinatra Ayres.

When the reigning Super Bowl champions kick off the first game of the season today against the Dallas Cowboys, they’ll do it under a new solar ring around the top of MetLife Stadium, lit up in New York Giants blue.

The NFL’s biggest stadium, which is also home to the New York Jets, is debuting a high-profile push toward renewable energy with a ring featuring 1,350 solar panels, which can turn blue or green, depending on which team is playing.

Solar Stadium

image via NRG

“I think it’s really going to emerge as sort of an iconic physical element” for the stadium, said David Crane, chief executive officer of NRG Energy, which designed the ring. “I actually saw it the first time in person on a Continental Airlines jet, from seat 42A. It’s very, very impressive — it’s actually more impressive from the outside of the stadium,” he said.

Together, the panels generate 25 times the power needed to run the LED lights that come to life at night. The excess power is used to service the rest of the stadium. In all, the solar power system generates 350,000 kilowatt hours — enough to meet approximately 10 percent of the stadium’s power needs on game days.

And it’s not NRG’s only new renewable energy installation this season.

Farther north, at the home of the Giants’ Super Bowl rivals, the New England Patriots, construction is still under way on a solar canopy and set of rooftop panels at Patriot Place, an outdoor shopping and dining center that’s adjacent to Gillette Stadium. The canopy, which also offers cover for patrons, and the installation that now sits atop a Sleepy’s Mattress store, add up to 3,000 solar panels. The combination is expected to generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours a year — about 60 percent of Patriot Place’s electricity usage.

Although NRG debuted a stadium solar project last year — an array 8,000 of panels in the parking area at the Redskins’ FedEx Field in Maryland — this year’s projects have taken on a higher profile because they’re at the homes of the teams who faced off in the last Super Bowl.

Other stadiums have gotten in on the renewable energy act, too: the Seattle Seahawks installed a 2.5-acre solar array at CenturyLink Field last year; and the Philadelphia Eagles, who are now working with NRG, are working to make Lincoln Financial Field “the greenest facility in the National Football League,” owner Jeffrey Lurie recently said.

Of course, the companies affiliated with these efforts don’t always make it to the end zone. The Seahawks’ array was installed by the now-bankrupt Solyndra, and part of the Eagles’ green efforts suffered a hiccup when the vendor for planned rooftop wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field went under as well. Neither team was derailed by the industry snafus, but they are a reminder of the risks inherent in betting on a new energy strategy.

The Great Energy Challenge is an important three-year National Geographic initiative designed to help all of us better understand the breadth and depth of our current energy situation. National Geographic has assembled some of the world’s foremost researchers and scientists to help tackle the challenge. Led by Thomas Lovejoy, a National Geographic conservation fellow and renowned biologist, the team of advisers will work together to identify and provide support for projects focused on innovative energy solutions.