Will 2011 be the year that outdoor events embrace greener energy resources?

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It’s easier for a small festival to change its energy sources than it is for a large-scale event, so says Andy Mead, managing director of Firefly Solar. Large organisers are gradually moving renewable power up the agenda, but they’ve been doing the same thing with the same people for so long that change is slower.

Thankfully, according to Mead, there’s lots of enthusiasm from industry as a whole and he’s confident that the widening use of BS 8901 and the increasing emergence of environmental policies will escalate renewable power sources up the ranks.

MAMA Group is taking the bull by the horns and is using its Lovebox festival as a testbed for alternative power sources. If successful, it will begin to roll out across its portfolio renewable energy. But first, it has to see whether policies and procedures set in place at Lovebox will transfer across the group.

Despite economic doom and gloom, Firefly reports a 40 per cent rise in hire in 2009 and it is projecting similar growth for next year. In January, it is also diversifying into sales, as it aims to flood the market with as much renewable power as possible.

Mead explains: “Power companies and power contracts are pretty established. As a small company, we can’t take away those big contracts but we can sell renewable power sources to other companies so that the technology is more widely available and accessible to industry.”

Mead says that festival organisers are becoming savvy to the idea that bringing in renewable powers also creates another sponsorship opportunity and revenue stream, citing Electric Picnic, Bestival and Isle of Wight festival, which in 2010 had their renewable energy programmes sponsored by ESB, Southern Electric and the British Council respectively.

Also, in 2011, Mead predicts an increasing number of agencies using renewable energy on experiential campaigns and roadshows, as they feel the pressure from clients to be more sustainable.

Shaun Pearce, managing director of Pearce Hire, believes that the jury is still out on the use of products such as bio-diesel and the effect it has on an events carbon footprint. It has not experienced great demand for bio-diesel fuels, as articles highlight how rainforests are being destroyed to grow rapeseed for bio-fuel.

He adds: “To be effective an event has to switch all fuel to bio-diesel, otherwise you have two sets of fuel deliveries and the negative impact of the extra transport burden can cancel out the benefits.

“In our experience, we have found that working closely with organisers and production managers we have been able to reduce consumption of event supplies effectively by using our low energy lighting, such as halogen lighting and adding photocells onto fixtures to automatically turn lights off during daylight hours, and turning off generators when not in use. This results in using less fuel as generators have reduced time running, and this extends into reduced transport to get fuel deliveries to site and therefore less fuel overall.”

Powering on

Pearce has recently returned from Doha where he and his team provided all the temporary power to the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which celebrates a year of films, education and community.

The complex event site was split into several key production areas, each of which needed to be treated as a separate entity with its own needs and considerations. The central point to it all was red carpet area and other areas such as the Festival Esplanade, Family Area, the Lacombe Gallery and a huge outdoor theatre where 2,500 people could be seated in an 82-metre wide dome, constructed by Al Laith. The buildings and streets of Katara cultural village and the amphitheatre were illuminated with architectural lighting designed by Adam Basset and supplied by PRG.

Pearce was appointed head production electrician, working alongside production manager Michael Petrovich to plan and install all of the required power services. Such a large project required a long lead time and for this Pearce lead a team of three technicians supported with local engineers on site for seven weeks. Whilst Katara was the main location there were public screenings on the beach at the Four Seasons Hotel, an after show party at The Pearl of Qatar, and further screenings at the City Centre Cinemas which in total required another six 800Kva generators, distribution and cabling.

He explained: “We have extensive experience in the Middle East providing temporary power solutions for large events. Working alongside locally based generator supplier Prime Power, we sourced 30 generators, from 30kva to 1250kva in size. EFM freighted over three tons of our specialist distribution equipment and there were no compromises in ensuring all electrical circuitry was tested and installed working to recognised UK standards.

“To put the scale of event into perspective, along the esplanade alone the air conditioning pulled a constant 1000 amps per phase! This was the equivalent of having a large stage lighting rig turned up full for five days; and this was before they turned on the catering lighting, AV and sound equipment requiring another 600 amps!

“Extensive architectural lighting across Katara and feeding the Red Carpet area provided us a particular distribution challenge, as all cables had to be routed safely and remain unseen. I spent several days surveying the village and designed a complex distribution solution requiring 2,000 amps of power for lighting and screens. With voltage drop being the greatest challenge, some heavy power cable runs in excess of 500 metres!”

Power challenges

The challenge to Fourth Generation this year has been the move of Dancing On Ice from its five-year residency at Elstree Studios, to it’s new home at Shepperton Studios. Having honed the system to a tee with regards to load in logistics and running costs at its former site, it is with a fresh perspective that Fourth Generation has had to approach a new location. Working closely with production, the generators have been strategically placed in order to give the least amount of noise disturbance and pollution to the residential neighbours in close proximity to the lot. Elevated stacks have been required for the generators in order to minimise the pollution on such a contained site.

The routing of the mains cable has required particular attention due to the necessity of keeping the many fire lanes clear. A combination of unified ramping and scaffolding solutions were found. Rigging was placed around three sides of the building in order to carry over 6,000 metres of mains cable. Overcoming each new hurdle was given a twist with the onslaught of the UK’s coldest November weather conditions in years.

As usual Fourth Generation will power all elements of the popular ITV series. A supply of 1,000 kVA will be provided on a 24/7 basis to the ice rinks and site, and a further 1600 kVA will be supplied to lighting, sound, video, projection, cameras, outside broadcast, edit suites and transmission.