NRG’s projects are part of its “icon strategy,” where the company looked for well-known structures in the United States that were “more horizontal construction — and it didn’t take us long to get to the NFL stadiums,” said Crane. “They’re big, they’re cool, they’re usually surrounded by big parking lots,” which lend themselves to solar installations.
Crane declined to reveal specific price tags for the projects, but said they tend to run in the “several million” dollar range.
And how long does it take for a stadium to recover those costs with energy savings?
“In terms of the return on the investment, we’re used to getting a return over a fairly long term in our industry,” Crane said. “Any investment we do, we calculate over a 20 year term.”
But he says solar isn’t as expensive as it once was.
“The price of solar panels has dropped precipitously,” said Crane. Most of the costs at the stadiums are associated with their highly stylized looks and the installation work that involves. “You can’t do computer-driven LED lighting and achieve the same price point as you can for lining up solar panels in desert.” (Which is what many of the company’s lower-profile installations involve.)
“On one level, we know that people who are going to football games are going to football games to look at Tom Brady, they’re not going to look at our panels on the roof,” Crane laughed. Still, the hope is that “fans will look at them and say, ‘my team is doing the right thing.’ It’s really about raising awareness with the fan base.”
Crane hopes to continue on to a second phase at each of stadiums, possibly including solar panels in MetLife’s vast parking lot, and a wind turbine is under consideration at Gillette.
He’s also keen to install more of the company’s electric vehicle charging stations at stadiums, which was part of the FedEx Field project and a priority for NRG.
And don’t be surprised if next season brings more NFL teams onto the renewable energy playing field.
“The NFL’s a very competitive place — and we’d like to be associated with some one-upmanship,” Crane said.