Guest Post: Positive Energy For Touring – Setting The Scene (6th Annual Magna Charta Special)

Guest Post by Rob Scully BSc AMEI FIEMA / COO of Showpower Global

night of the first stadium show ever powered solely by batteries Coldplay Music Of The Spheres tour Coimbra 21st May 2023
The team toasting to the first stadium show ever powered solely by batteries: Coldplay’s “Music Of The Spheres Tour,” at the Estádio Cidade de Coimbra in Portugal, May 21, 2023 (from left): Paul Traynor (Stage Manager & Head Electrician) and Mick McGillion (Power Crew Chief) from Gennybasher, with Tim Benson and Rob Scully from Showpower Global.

We researched this on high-profile touring shows and developed a state-of-the-art SmartGrid battery system that is flexible and modular. The system has separate power units and energy storage units, which can be used in many different combinations to exactly match the power output and energy requirements of any show. During our research and development, we often found that, although stadium venues have good connections to the public electricity grid, they don’t have the right infrastructure on site for it to be used by touring artists. Using our battery solution with a generator can reduce generator usage by 75%, but using it with a grid connection gets rid of the need for a generator entirely, and makes the show zero-emissions at the point of use.

Showpower believes that at venues, stadiums, and in urban areas, connecting to the electricity grid and peak shaving through our SmartGrid battery system is the solution to saving 50-100% of emissions in comparison to diesel generators. This is also true for festival sites, and we actively work with venue operators and owners to try and improve their electricity grid infrastructure. Artists planning 2025 tours can massively reduce their carbon emissions by implementing these proven and reliable learnings, and innovations from 2023 and 2024, as we move forward toward emission-free power for events.

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The Smartgrid Battery System, which was developed by Showpower on the Coldplay Music Of The Spheres World Tour, is flexible and modular, and has separate power and energy storage units, which can be combined to match the requirements of any show.

Sustainability is an important concern of venues, festivals, and touring artists. Waste reduction, reuse, and recycling are highly visible improvements at many venues in recent years. Whilst this is important work, the main sources of harmful emissions in live entertainment remain behind the scenes, in transport and energy use. Power and energy related impacts have the second-largest carbon footprint in event production (after transport), comprising more than 80% of non-travel related operational emissions, and typically 25-30% of an event’s entire carbon footprint, and they affect air quality through the release of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions.

Luckily, power provision and energy usage is an area that event producers and venues can have direct control over. This means there is a significant opportunity for emissions savings.

Artists often tour with their own power supply to have consistency and control over the power for their shows. Most tours still use diesel generators for this, resulting in harmful emissions and high carbon footprints. A large stadium concert will typically run on a set-up of two to six large diesel generators. This can result in carbon emissions of five tons or more per show day. The top 50 tours of last year consisted of more than 2,500 shows between them. Just these top-tier shows potentially have a carbon footprint of up to 13.5 megatons (13,500 tons) of carbon. That’s equivalent to the entire year’s carbon emissions of the city of Warsaw and, whilst the stadium touring market is huge, it could be argued that the festival market is even larger, with at least 6,000-plus festivals happening every year across Europe, most of which will still be powered by diesel generators. A study by Hope Solutions & ZAP Concepts in 2019 showed how reducing fuel use on outdoor events in the UK alone could save up to 450 megatons of carbon emissions – equivalent to taking six million cars off the road for a day.

It’s important to note that “renewable diesel” or HVO is by no means emissions-free. In fact, the amount of direct carbon emissions is almost identical to using “regular” diesel, it’s just that the carbon impact is in effect “offset” by the growing of the crop used to make the fuel. Carbon is still emitted to the atmosphere when HVO is burned in a generator. “Stage V” generators are also not emissions-free and, ironically, can lead to increased fuel usage and carbon emissions, as you need to keep the generator fully loaded for it to work effectively.

Outside of voluntary guidelines and resources for event producers, there is little mandatory regulation of emissions from live shows. This is likely to change in the future, as many live venues, and festival grounds are located within low-emissions zones (LEZ). These zones are geographical areas in cities that have placed restrictions on the use of vehicles, with the goal of tackling air pollution. They currently cover 350 cities in eight countries. By 2025, 507 LEZs will be in place in Europe, due to new national laws coming into force in France, Spain, and Poland, mandating and/or supporting the adoption of such schemes. These schemes are relevant for venues and touring artists, as they may well result in a future ban on the use of any “combustion engine” at city-center venues. Rules on carbon emissions reporting are also changing, so that emissions from the use of biofuels are no longer counted as zero. Instead, the direct carbon emissions of burning any fuel must be reported.

So, what can live events do? In a way, the answer is easy: just burn less, or no, fuel. Change is happening: touring artists such as Coldplay, and European festivals such as DGTL Amsterdam, Mysteryland, and Glastonbury are on this journey already. All have reduced emissions from their energy use. Many more will follow. There’s no “silver bullet,” no magic fuel or shiny new technology, that will solve the issue on its own. What is required is a systematic approach. This is why Showpower Global developed the “Power-as-a-Service” model for live events. We combine smart tools and data analysis with battery technology and live experience to make a sustainable approach to powering a show.

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Mick McGillion (Power Crew Chief) walking in front of Showpower’s Smartgrid Battery System.

First, know what you need! What is the (real) maximum power requirement of the show, and what is the energy required to run the show, plus the important bits on either side of it? Showpower Global uses a unique cloud software tool to compile a full inventory of powered equipment, and develops a smart power plan based on the maximum power and energy use required. Next, look for an appropriate lower or zero-carbon power and energy source: use mains grid connections wherever possible. A grid connection is always lower in emissions than a diesel generator, due to the much higher efficiency – a diesel generator is only ever going to convert a maximum of 40% of the energy in its fuel into electricity for the show; use renewables such as solar power, or even kinetic power, to contribute energy to the show. This can be truly zero-carbon energy and, even if it doesn’t power the whole show, it still contributes to reducing your emissions; use battery systems for energy storage, backup and to smooth out the peaks of power use on the show; match the power source to the actual power and energy demand of the show.

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