Can solar power win at the 2014 World Cup?

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The reputation of international football (soccer!) governing body FIFA and its ability to adapt to social changes and economic pressures have come into question often in recent years, with the organisation and its head Sep Blatter’s attempts to deal with high profile issues such as racist abuse of players held in contemptuous disdain by many sections of the football following public.

Moreover the reputation of the beautiful game itself has taken something of a kicking in recent years as phenomenal amounts of money have flooded in, mainly from television broadcast rights, leading to accusations that the sport has long lost touch with the fans who dutifully lined terraces week-in, week-out and paved the way for its success in the first place. The accusation frequently levelled is that on many issues, association football is out of touch with the wider world around it.

In Brazil, where the World Cup will be held next year, protests at the vast amounts of public money eventually spent on bringing infrastructure and stadium facilities up to standard, as well as protests at the nation’s economic situation in general, have threatened to mar preparations and potentially spoil the World Cup party.

So it would be easy to react with some degree of scepticism to FIFA’s grand announcement that it would be spending over US$20 million on ensuring that the tournament in Brazil next year will adhere to a strict Sustainability Strategy, aimed at providing the greenest World Cup ever. Never mind that this claim appears to be made at each successive tournament and that not much is heard of these claims after the tournament has finished and the circus has left town. A cursory glance at the organisation’s own webpage detailing the Sustainability Strategy appears to include training of unpaid volunteers to work at the World Cup to be of great benefit to future generations of Brazilians, for example.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that some innovative and significant sustainability solutions have been offered and some have already been put in place, and for those of us in the PV industry some of these changes are very exciting and represent some new approaches to the question of how best to utilise solar energy alongside conventional power generation and hopefully raise the profile of photovoltaics among the football-mad public. Brazil is considered to be abundant not only in passion for football but also solar radiation, enjoying around twice as much solar radiation each year as Germany, but this potential has largely been untapped until now.

At least seven of the 12 stadiums to be used for the football World Cup in Brazil, beginning 12 June 2014, will be fitted with solar arrays for on-site generation, including Gehrlicher Solar's installation on Pituacu Stadium (see picture). Originally all 12 stadiums had been expected to be fitted to some degree with PV arrays and other green energy measures, but ultimately only seven will have them fitted in time for the tournament. Brazil aims to stage the most sustainable World Cup to date, with the benefits and potential of solar power showcased to a global audience of millions, along with other environmentally-friendly features such as facilitating the smart collection of rainwater, built into the design of the Maracana Stadium in Rio De Janeiro.

An inauguration event was held for the 14MW rooftop solar array at Estádio Governador Magalhães Pinto, popularly known as the Mineirão, in Belo Horizonte, as reported by PV-Tech in May. Shortly after that the first matches at the stadium were held, with the Mineirão among those that successfully hosted international fixtures in the Confederations Cup in June 2013 as a test event ahead of next year’s World Cup.

The stadiums’ solar arrays will all have different energy roles to play, with the photovoltaic panels on the Mineirão feeding directly back into the grid, while the 2.5MWp rooftop plant at the Mané Garrincha is expected to be used to power half of the stadium’s energy requirements. The Arena Pernambuco in Recife will utilise solar power for facilities including kitchens, changing rooms and toilets at the stadium, with electricity going into the grid when the stadium is not in use.

Funding for each stadium’s solar capability comes from a variety of sources; Brazilian energy company Odebrecht Energia has invested around US$13 million into the Arena Pernambuco, while the Mineirão’s PV arrays were funded by around US$16 million from German bank KfW and Brazilian utility firm CEMIG. FIFA’s own invested figure of US$20 million would barely have funded one and a half of the stadium PV installations, but at least in this instance some private investors appear to be keen to pick up the cost.

Meanwhile, Rio’s Maracana, historically one of the most famous and feted football grounds in the world, will be attempting to attain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. An array of 1,500 rooftop solar panels is expected to be complemented by the aforementioned system of collecting and reusing rainwater.

Ultimately, whatever anyone else thinks of the organisation, FIFA will be in charge of staging the World Cup next year and undoubtedly will do very well out of it, financially and in terms of image. I suspect the majority of sceptics, like me, will probably put their concerns to one side and cheer on their favourite teams and star players as well as enjoying vicariously the carnival atmosphere that Brazil is famed for.

Let’s not be mistaken about this – the solar plants fitted to the Brazilian stadiums look fantastic and the approach taken to ensuring that each system has uses tailored to the needs of the specific area and site is very clever, practical and ultimately very useful. However whether the Sustainability Strategy and stadium PV array designs and uses will provide a famous legacy to the solar power sector or not remains to be seen, and will depend on how well the benefits of their use can be communicated to the public, as well as providing valuable data on their efficiency, providing a quantifiable counterpoint to easily spoken platitudes regarding a commitment to the sport, the public, industry and the planet.

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