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Analysis: Superbowl Power Outage Shines a Bad Light On HID Lighting

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If you weren’t one of last night’s 100+ million Superbowl viewers, by now you’ve probably heard that a stadium wide power outage stalled the game for 34 minutes.

Was it a conspiracy by CBS to sell more advertising?  One brand team used the dark time to quickly execute an Oreo cookie twitter campaign which said “Power Outage?  You Can Still Dunk In The Dark.  And there were some entertaining tweets from the masses about the a Superbowl with no power.  Or maybe the 34 minutes was paid for by Caterpillar, hoping to drive awareness for their backup generators?   It could certainly help the calculation of the monetary value for reliable backup generation.

But NRG says that there was a full backup system in place and, after a portion of the electrical network overloaded, it operated as designed and power was restored.  CBS also claimed full backup, and although they didn’t stop broadcasting, the booth with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz was off the air for 30 minutes.

So while engineers begin studying how the backup system could have restored power faster, eventually they’ll come to the stadium’s lighting.

You probably know stadium lighting from afar.   It could be from when you were last a spectator at a major sporting event and looked up at the lighting towers, each holding 10 to 100 individual round domed shaped fixtures.  Or if you’ve been on a quiet and lit neighborhood playing field you might remember that annoying background buzzing sound.   Or that the lights need a warm up period before practice can begin.  Whether its the Superbowl or your town field we’ve all been exposed to this high intensity discharge (HID) based lighting.

Each HID fixture draws 1 to 1.5 kilowatts of energy.  As a comparison, to provide reliable electricity service to your home, a local utility will likely model 1.5 – 2 kw of demand.  And here’s a shocker – HIDs are not energy efficient.  The light output from an HID lamp depreciates quickly, with each fixture giving out less light for the same power consumed.  Once the default lighting type for other high-mounting height locations like warehouses, factories and gymnasiums, HIDs have broadly been replaced by more energy efficient fluorescent lighting, and, more recently, long lasting LEDs.

But the Superbowl feature that stands out most is instant on – instant off.

What many didn’t pick up last night is the fact that even with power restored HID systems take 10-15 minutes just to come to full light output – or roughly half of last night’s Superbowl downtime.  Not exactly what we’ve all come to expect from a light switch at home or at the office.  In energy efficiency land, not being able to turn something on and off when needed is a killer.   The world is moving toward demand based everything – controls should automatically know when you need something and when you don’t – and turn things on and off accordingly.

So the Superbowl power outage may actually have been a commercial in disguise – and anyone selling HID lighting was NOT using twitter to tell the world how much they enjoyed it.