A Nighttime Super Bowl But A Sun-Powered League

Ah, if only the Super Bowl on Sunday were being played during the day – and under a bright sun. Renewable energy devotees would then be able to point to the scoreboard at MetLife Stadium and say, “Woo-hoo, solar power in action!”

That’s because MetLife is one of five NFL stadiums, according to survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that has a solar power system. A sixth stadium that will open this fall for the San Francisco 49ers will also come with solar. Here’s how the systems stack up:

image via U.S. Energy Information Administration

image via U.S. Energy Information Administration

What’s interesting is that while California is far and away the leading solar state in the U.S., the Niners’ Levi’s Stadium will be the first in the state with solar – and most of the systems in place now are in the Northeast.

One reason is NRG Energy, which has a headquarters in Princeton, N.J. NRG is a sprawling company, but it does a ton of solar through its NRG Solar arm. And the solar installations in all four of those Northeast U.S. stadiums – FedExField, Lincoln Financial Field,  Patriot Place and MetLife – were done by NRG [PDF]. The Levi’s Stadium solar installation is an NRG project, as well.

MetLife solar nrg

Metlife Stadium in New Jersey (image via NRG Energy)

As the EIA notes, even on a sunny Sunday afternoon these systems generally can’t produce enough juice to completely power a stadium – but some, like the Lincoln Financial Field system in Philadelphia, are capable of generating substantial amounts of electricity. More than 11,000 panels – on the south facade of the Philly stadium, the stadium’s canopy roof, adjacent pavilions and also over the stadium parking lot – can provide up to 3 megawatts of power. And of course, even on non-game days, if the sun is shining, the panels are working, feeding energy to the grid; a Philadelphia Inquirer article noted that on one day alone the unit “churned out 21,033.7 kilowatt-hours, nearly enough to power two average homes for a year.”

At 276 kilowatts, the MetLife system is a pee-wee compared to Lincoln Financial Field’s, but it does come with a couple of interesting twists: the project “represents the second-largest building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panel installation in the U.S.,” according to NRG; and the system is highlighted (literally) by LED lights in the “NRG Solar Ring.” They have infinite color capabilities, NRG notes, so on Sunday night, you might see them twinkling away, quite efficiently, in Broncos orange, navy and white, and Seahawks navy, green and gray.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.