From HVO to Hydrogen, Access speaks to event power suppliers and experts about the latest sustainability developments in the sector.

Organisers are under increasing pressure to provide sustainable energy solutions at live events, with many introducing green initiatives while having to battle against rising costs and other industry challenges. The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Coldplay’s groundbreaking Music of the Spheres world tour, and Scottish festival HebCelt are examples of events that have led the way, but the industry more broadly has some catching up to do.

In July PlusZero powered Scotland’s HebCelt Festival (pictured) at Stornoway using green hydrogen produced locally on the Scottish Western Isles.

The Scotland-based company, launched in 2020, consists of two green hydrogen businesses; PlusZero Energy and PlusZero Power.

PlusZero director of story Mark Irving says although the Western Isles has the highest levels of energy poverty in the UK, it has the potential to be its most rapidly scalable production site for green hydrogen.

Irving says the core advantage of green hydrogen is that it is the gold standard in environmental terms; zero carbon emissions and zero nitrogen oxides (NOx). He says that de-risks it from an investor perspective in terms of regulatory penalties to which other forms of hydrogen production are subject to.

“It also gives the end user the assurance that this aspect of their own energy use is as clean as it can get,” he says. “It’s wonderfully circular, made from water, its only by-product is water. There’s something very beautiful in this simplicity, and often that’s a good measure of whether something is right.”

Irving says the PlusZero Power business has made the decision to work with and develop internal combustion engines (ICE) fuelled by green hydrogen.

Says Irving, “Utilising well-established ICE technology means that we remove the challenge of working with technology that has yet to be fully proven and in which few people are currently trained in.

“Any mechanic who knows how to run and maintain a combustion engine can use one of our hydrogen-fuelled generators.”

Irving says this offers the fastest route to decarbonising portable power, which is currently the biggest sustainability challenge affecting sectors such as outdoor events and any other sector currently using diesel generators.

He is encouraged by the R&D going into the next generation of electrolysers, used to convert water into hydrogen: “We’re teamed up with TTP – The Technology Partnership in Cambridge – on the development of a version that looks like moving current electrolyser performance efficiency from 40% to around 90%.” Irving anticipates PlusZero having a demonstrator model deployed on its Western Isles site in early 2024.

Pearce Hire, which provides power, lighting, audio and rigging services, has recently worked on events such as Detonate Festival and AEG/Senbla open air concerts at various venues around the country.

Pearce Hire MD and founder Shaun Pearce (pictured) says all its festoon now use LED lamps and it has converted most of the floodlighting to LED sources. It also provides photocell controllers to switch off the site lighting between the hours of dawn and dusk.

Pearce adds that all its own generators run 100% on Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel: “Where possible we try and use HVO across all projects, but this can depend on both the generator supplier and organiser.”

He says Pearce Hire uses LED tower lights that it can control with an app to ensure they all switch on and off when required: “We’ve also been using battery tower lights for the campsites [which are] another great innovation as they are also very quiet so ideal for this purpose.”

Power Logistics has delivered green power solutions at events this year including Radio 1’s Big Weekend, BST Hyde Park, Boomtown Fair and the Platinum Jubilee celebration events in London.

Operations manager Ian Peniston says the company has introduced several innovative solutions alongside standard practices, including the use of Green D+ HVO and utilising the smallest generators possible on a load demand system. Plus power monitoring, LED tower lights and site lighting.

He says sustainable initiatives implemented at Radio 1’s Big Weekend resulted in a 41% fuel reduction compared to the 2019 event. These included incorporating a second-life battery to optimise energy usage for the event’s utilities and the number of generators reduced from 30 to 17.

For the Jubilee Pageant, Peniston says the firm installed a battery pack on each of the busses and lorries participating to power their PA systems. “These were recharged using two small generators run on sustainably sourced Green D+ HVO. The dressing rooms along the embankment and vehicle searching areas on the South Bank used the existing power supply.”

Peniston says data is the single most important tool at its disposal: “It is vital to the overall energy management solution. Power monitoring alone just isn’t good enough anymore, it should be a component of a much broader strategy.

“This includes analysis of the data to ensure that energy usage is optimised at every stage, then taking the data gathered at each event to improve the system and make energy and carbon emission savings year on year. We’re also using the information gleaned to update and introduce new technologies.”

Peniston says Power Logistics’ work on electric vehicle off-road racing event Extreme E is an example of the impact that it can have on an event’s carbon footprint: “We’ve designed and implemented a bespoke energy management solution that incorporates an electrical package built specifically to meet the event’s requirements.”

That involved monitoring all energy used onsite during the build, race weekend and breakdown then analysing the data and ensuring that energy usage was optimised at every stage.

He says, “The data gathered at each race improves the system and makes energy and carbon emission savings race on race, which in turn reduces the amount of energy used and minimises carbon emissions wherever possible.”

This summer also saw Live Nation Entertainment-owned Festival Republic partner with environmental pressure group Music Declares Emergency to present fully renewably powered, grid-connected stages at three of its events for the 2023 festival season. Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn described the project as a “game changer” for outdoor live events.

Costing the earth

At a time of soaring inflation, the issue of cost is a key consideration when considering green power. Pearce says one of the simplest ways to get every event organiser on board would be to make the cost of HVO fuel 20p per litre cheaper than standard diesel. Currently it is around 20p per litre more expensive: “I cannot think of a single event organiser who would not change to HVO overnight with the knowledge that they could save money on fuel,” he says. “While savings can be made in the reductions of fuel, consumed green technology tends to be more expensive to use.”

For instance, Pearce says three 100kVA [kilo-volt-amperes] generators in “farm mode” will cost more than one 300kVA generator. “All battery systems tend to cost three to four times more than an equivalent sized generator,” he says.

Tim Benson (pictured), founder and production director at SMART Power and chair and founder of not-for-profit “think-do tank” Powerful Thinking, spoke to Access while on site at Wembley Stadium for Coldplay’s tour. The tour’s Energy Zone allows energy from fans to be converted via kinetic dancefloors and pedal bikes into power.

Benson says issues with cost makes the case for using batteries even stronger: “If you put a battery system in line with your generator to manage the overnight base loads, you could be saving 50% renewal average fuel consumption per day. You can then monetise that fuel saving, which covers the cost of the hire of the battery system.”

Benson adds that while many event organisers are focused on running on HVO, which is lower in carbon than diesel, many people do not look beyond the initial problem of oversizing their generators.

“We want people to address power advancing as a crucial part of the festival and outdoor management process, because with proper power advancing information you can match your generator sizes to your actual demand.”

Leading the charge

Benson says to drive real change, event organisers need to be urged to use mains supplies, which can be bolstered with batteries. He says organisers are reluctant to rely on these as they feel there could be a power outage: “If you have a battery system that fits in between the main supply and the load, the battery system acts as a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) in the event that the mains goes down. So that argument is instantly made redundant.

“Even if it’s not a green mains tariff from a recognised green energy provider, the emissions per kilowatt hour for mains supplies are way below that of HVO.”

However, Benson says the current timeline for having mains supplies installed is too long, often up to two years, which he believes needs to be addressed by lobbying parliament.

“Event organisers that use the same site are willing to club together to pay for the installation of mains supplies because they will share it for their different events. There’s an appetite for it, but they’re put off by the fact that it takes too long and it’s too complicated. That’s a crucial thing that needs to be addressed.”

Pearce says there is no shortage of possibilities when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of power supply to events but the manufacture of bespoke equipment, along with the R&D involved, is expensive. He suggests the Government help more with green subsidies: “We are very visible and we are seen by lots of people, so we need to be seen to be leading the way with green initiatives. When you compare us to some other industries, I think we are.”

Peniston says the industry is beyond the point where increased sustainability is an option: “Climate change is very real, and we must reduce the carbon footprint of our events. We can make a real difference to emissions.”