Seeing red and turning green: Event experts talk power

Event power experts discuss the current state of the marketplace, new products, contract wins, and best practices…

In June, Festival Republic – the organiser of Download and Latitude – unveiled details of a research project with Music Declares Emergency. The research will look at the logistics of connecting more UK festivals to the national power grid, reducing the need to run generators on event and festival sites.

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, called the project a “game changer for outdoor live events”, reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and enabling promoters to produce more sustainable events.

Festival Republic hopes that the research project will provide some answers so it can run fully renewably powered, grid-connected stages at three events in 2023. Plus, it wants to share the findings and help other organisers to follow suit.

Grid power is a growing trend. Promoter Cuffe and Taylor is looking at grid power solutions and Agrekko is working with the organising committee of Birmingham 2022 to adopt a “mains first” approach. Where temporary energy is needed, Aggreko is providing 117 Stage V generators from 30kVA up to 600kVa running on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO).

Renewable power

Festival Republic has confirmed that this year’s Reading and Leeds will be powered by 100 per cent HVO biofuel – a renewable form of fuel that has 90 per cent less carbon equivalent emissions than regular diesel. All Points East will run on HVO too.

Since the events industry was banned from using red diesel and rebated biofuels on April 1, organisers have been shocked by the impact that increasing fuel prices have had on their production costs. Therefore, more organisers are turning to alternative power sources.

For example, the contractor compound at The 150th Open was powered by a solar farm and this year’s HebCelt was powered by locally produced green hydrogen.

The Islands Stage in the main arena area used zero-emissions energy for three days and nights, powering 12 different acts. It was the first festival in Scotland to run a full stage consecutively for the duration of an event on green hydrogen, which was produced from surplus electricity produced by local onshore wind renewable power.

PlusZero, a Harris-based clean power start-up, was the festival’s power provider and the evolution of the festival’s green power options was made possible through EventScotland’s National Events Programme.

“HebCelt has always been committed to finding ways to lessen our carbon emissions and to have an environmentally sensitive event,” explained Caroline Maclennan, HebCelt’s festival director. “To be able to make this significant step, which saw truly green energy used for one of our stages throughout the festival, was very welcome. The fact that we can source the power from a local provider who in turn is using renewable energy in the production process made this development even more attractive.”

ISE Systems power

Seeing a shift

This year, Glastonbury’s Pyramid, Other, Park and West Holts stages were powered by HVO, electric vehicles transported artists between stages and the festival’s office and some production areas were powered by a 1,500 square metre solar PV array and an anaerobic digester. It was not the only festival to adopt new moves. We Love Green used a mix of solar panels, green hydrogen generators, and biofuel generators to power the three-day event.

Bradley Ireland, group sales director, at MHM Group, said that there is a desire within the events industry to become more eco-friendly. Bhavisha Fatania, marketing manager at IDE Systems, agreed.

Fatania said: “The red diesel ban has led to increased fuel costs for event companies. The increased cost has refocussed events on reducing fuel consumption, which has led to enquiries on how Erica, our power monitoring and control tool, can assist events in reducing fuel consumption.

“Event organisers are very focused on ensuring their event is sustainable. Electric vehicle chargers are amongst the many requests we receive. Event organisers have seen the shift to electric vehicles and wish to cater to this market.”

Pearce Hire power

New tech and reduce usage

MHM Group has recently launched a 10kva Ultra-Silent Event Ready generator, which consumes less fuel. The Ultra-Silent range is available with Stage V engines in sizes from 10kva to 500kva and the company has also increased its Solar Hybrid Battery Diesel Generator range, which is now available with Stage V engines from 3.5kva all the way up to 100kva and have the option of additional solar panel kits.

Jim Brown, general manager of Pearce Hire, concurred that the deployment of battery systems is playing a bigger role this year, reducing generator run time via hybrid set ups. The temporary power provider is trying to find ways to help clients reduce pressure on budgets, but market conditions are tough. Brown explained: “With fuel having roughly doubled in cost, we have had to ask our clients for fuel deposits. In the past, when the cost was at a lower level, we could tolerate waiting to be paid but we can’t expose ourselves to that risk anymore.

“Our clients are understandably looking to us to reduce usage as much as possible to try and reduce fuel costs for them. The upside with this is that the environmental improvements in generator provision, new and more sustainable technologies (and other aspects) which didn’t necessarily make economic sense to our clients a year or so ago, do make sense now. These reduce fuel use, and therefore emissions, and hopefully make fuel costs more manageable. Having said that it is disappointing, and frustrating for us, that there is no attempt to incentivise HVO usage. We know that this is the quickest way of improving an existing diesel generator fleet’s environmental performance until new technology arrives.”

Drive radical change

When the red diesel ban was introduced in April, Pearce Hire expected to see a push from organisers to reduce their fuel usage to try and minimise the increase in fuel costs, but no one could have foreseen how the market conditions have changed since then. The ban on red diesel and staggeringly high white diesel costs will drive radical change.

“The ban couldn’t have come at a worse time for the events industry,” said Alex Macan, technical and operations director
at Progen Power. “COVID all but decimated many events and required many companies to dip into their financial reserves to ensure their survival. To enforce a ban on red diesel that doubled the fuel bill of all events just

at the time when these companies were just getting back on their feet wasn’t a welcome move. Fortunately, many of the clients we work alongside had been anticipating this for a while, and adequate planning had been made to enable us to work with them to roll out full HVO across their sites.”

Pearce Hire will be providing power services to All Points East, Deer Shed, and Cambridge Folk Festival this summer, and is currently on tour with Michael Buble. Progen, which provided power to Download Festival in June, is now prepping for MotoGP at Silverstone.

Macan said: “Progen Power began operating properly in February this year. We didn’t want to go too wild in our first year. We began with a little-known festival in Leicestershire called Download! The team then moved on to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and in a few weeks’ time, we’re heading back to Silverstone to help power the MotoGP.

“When we started out on this journey, we had no idea that we would end up being the main provider of temporary power solutions for some of the UK’s major events. We had weddings and parties in mind but the support from our clients has been fantastic.”

Progen Power

Challenging market

In April, Festival Republic approached Progen Power to work on Download, having found itself without a power supplier. Historically, power at the festival has been provided by one supplier but given the timescale, it was not possible

to find one supplier which had enough kit or crew to deliver the project in its entirety. Progen Power worked alongside Sunbelt Rentals to ensure the site was fully covered. Sunbelt took the stages and arena infrastructure and Progen Power powered the bars, concessions, and campsites.

Macan continued: “We have added some exciting products to our inventory over the last few months. We have a
fleet of the very latest Stage V 18kVa generators, which can be linked together and used to provide a load on demand system. We have also added more than 70 new custom distribution boards, which allow great flexibility to our customers in terms of socket outlets, and we continue to be well supported by JCB. We currently have some of their new Stage V products on test.”

But what advice would Macan give to organisers that are struggling with power this year? “My main advice having seen the number of event organisers being let down is to do your due diligence. Ensure suppliers actually have the equipment they have promised. So many of the middlemen are being let down by their ‘trusted’ suppliers currently and it’s hugely important for the solvency of your business that you can ensure the availability of the equipment and the crew to undertake your project.

“This is why we are positioning ourselves to rely on rehires as little as possible. It wouldn’t be good business practise to
own absolutely everything, but equally it’s not good business practise to own barely anything and advertise yourself as a temporary power provider.

“My second piece of advice is to be understanding that everyone is suffering the same shortages of equipment and personnel, lead times on new equipment are huge and many good people have moved into other jobs and industries. Everyone is doing their best under difficult circumstances, so be nice.”

Brown concurred: “If you talk to us early and give us information early (even if it is only a starting point) we can design systems to ensure they are fit- for-purpose and as efficient as possible. This includes finding out what the actual power requirements are; making system recommendations to minimise demand and once we’ve done all that to correctly size our generators solutions to fit.

“We will do everything we can to help clients reduce fuel bills. Reducing engine sizes and running times is key to this, sometimes the biggest win on a site can be a mains supply which either no-one has thought of using before, or which needs a relatively simple upgrade to meet some of the power requirements for the event.”

Brown concluded: “At the end of the day, our clients expect us to turn up; ensure power is on at the right places and is safe; make sure the power stays on during the gig; and get it out of there without damaging anything. We’re not re-inventing the wheel – just trying to make it roll along a bit better every time we do it.”