Take Me Out to the (Solar-Powered) Ballgame

Scoreboards big enough to be seen for miles, light fixtures bright enough to make the night seem like day, and enough deep fryers and beer coolers to satisfy the palates of 40,000 excited fans. Our country’s baseball stadiums are built on a different scale compared with most of the buildings around us. As a result, the stadiums are electricity-consuming juggernauts, placing strain on the local grid and hitting the pocketbook of stadium owners. However, several franchises are tackling these challenges by installing renewable energy generation at their stadiums.

With the start of the 2012 baseball season in April, three teams have introduced new solar arrays into their stadiums’ electricity line-ups. The Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Seattle Mariners have joined the ranks of several other baseball teams with solar panels attached to their stadiums. The commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball has set renewable power as a priority for the league’s teams and has partnered with the National Resources Defense Council since 2008 to help identify opportunities for teams to incorporate more renewable power. To date, eight of the 30 teams have installed renewable generation. These systems are not huge in comparison to utility-scale projects, with the newest installations ranging from 30-40 kilowatts, but they will provide a significant amount of energy when used throughout the year and over the course of many years.

This innovative technology is not just reserved for recently constructed stadiums. Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season. Fenway uses solar water heaters installed on the stadium’s roof to provide nearly 40 percent of hot water used on game days. Teams are looking beyond solar as well. The Cleveland Indians are piloting an innovative spiral wind turbine designed by a professor at Cleveland State University intended to generate 40,000 kilowatt hours per year.

These projects create several different benefits for the stadium owners, grid operators, and the public. For the stadium owners, these renewable generation resources reduce electricity they must buy from the grid. As an example, Kansas City’s solar panels are expected to generate enough electricity to power the entire stadium’s beverage refrigeration system. Or as Kansas City Power & Light official Chuck Caisely put it, “Your beer is going to be cooled by the sun.” This not only lowers the stadium’s electricity bill but also reduces its carbon footprint by trimming its use of fossil-fuel-generated power from the grid.

For grid operators, stadium-produced power represents a great opportunity as a distributed, renewable resource. With only 81 annual home games lasting just a few hours each, stadiums lay inactive for the majority of the year. However, on off days, the stadiums could act as mini-power plants and continue to produce solar or wind power to be sold back to the grid. While current state regulations might prevent this option for some teams, there are plenty of examples of distributed solar panel owners across the country that sell excess power back to the grid. This could reduce the costly and fossil-fuel-powered supply that grid operators would otherwise have to bring online to meet customer demand. While most of the stadiums’ systems currently serve internal needs only, stadium operators could maximize the true power of their resources by tying in to the local grid.

Finally, for the public, these new installations present a tremendous educational opportunity to learn about renewable energy. Many of the franchises are going out of their way to highlight the new resources for fans. Besides new informational kiosks in the stadium concourses, St. Louis is planning a “Solar Day” at the ballpark, while Kansas City is preparing to showcase its new solar array as part of the league’s All-Star Game festivities there in July. With the number of people at the ballpark in addition to the fans watching on TV, the teams’ promotional efforts could go a long way in helping consumers understand how renewable energy works and why it matters. With the benefits for fans, teams, and the overall gird, America’s national pastime is playing an important role in demonstrating the power that lies in renewable energy.