New football season marks a critical victory for NRG Energy

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

September rolls around again and so another National Football League opens.

Last week, defending champions, the New York Giants, took on the Dallas Cowboys for the kick off at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The hosts lost 24-17. But as fans kept score from the bleachers, the opening game of the season marked a critical victory for a traditional power generation company with ambitions to shape the 21st century energy industry.

NRG Energy, the Princeton-based Fortune 500 company, is about to become the largest independent power producer in the US when it merges with GenOn, another mid-sized power producer.

NRG owns 25,000MW of capacity. But only a fraction of that – 166MW – is solar, with around 950MW under construction.

Last July, the Washington Redskins announced that NRG would install a 2MW system, the largest solar system in Washington, DC, at FedExField. Deals soon followed with the New England Patriots and the New York Giants and New York Jets who share the MetLife Stadium.

On a recent tour of installations at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was clear that these were no ordinary PPAs or marketing horse trades.

David Crane, NRG's refreshingly outspoken chief executive, said: “People in the renewables industry tend to talk about all renewables being the same; solar takes a second seat to wind. What really impressed us about solar was the runway solar has to a lower cost point.

“The second advantage is that the sun shines when people are using electricity in the US for the most part, for example, air conditioning. But the wind doesn't necessarily blow when people are using electricity.

“We see solar in a vast range of applications from vast giant mirror arrays in the California desert to solar panels on NFL stadiums that are arranged in a highly aesthetic way.”

The deal with the Patriots includes 2,457 Sunpower panels atop a strip mall. The 327kW panels hadn't yet been connected on the day of my visit, but Crane vouched for their advertised ease of deployment when he later mentioned that he'd had to send a panicked email the previous week when no panels had been installed.

Together with the very sleek Schott BIPV panels over an outdoor shopping mall attached to the Patriots' complex, these two systems are expected to kick out 1.1m kWh annually, or 60% of the load outside of the Gillette Stadium.

NRG owns the systems and sells the electricity back to the team at a rate that is kept a closely guarded secret. Even the length of the PPA is not for public consumption.

“More than five but less than 50 years,” Jonathan Kraft, president of the club told me.

In the absence of any real information on price, the assumption has to be that the rate per kWh is high, the costs of panels are high, but the deal will last long enough to recoup the Investment Tax Credit and all the depreciation benefits, and then perhaps NRG will flip the project.

Tom Gros, president of NRG Solutions who headed up the NFL projects, said they all represented “very good value”.

“David Crane would never let me do anything that lost money so yes these all generate money.

“We're right at the tipping point in a handful of states where it is competitive with the grid and if you talk to those NFL teams there's certainty over time in addition.

“You'll see some of these other barriers start to fall and the economics will make sense. As technology improves those efficiencies go up. I don't think I'd want to be the head of a utility in that kind of market. It's going to be tough to compete.”

Maybe Gros is right. But it won't happen overnight.

The next stop took us to the MetLife stadium in New Jersey where NRG has installed 1,350 BIPV panels made by Atlantis Energy in Poughkeepsie, New York.

These 350kW panels ring the stadium and are trimmed with multi-coloured LEDs that can be seen over the water in Manhattan. From the mile-long catwalk that encircles the top tier seats, the installation is really quite a feat of engineering.

From the helicopter, it becomes really clear why the Giants and the Jets have struck this deal with NRG: the installation has an aesthetic that was missing from the original design of the US$1.6bn stadium while providing a very expensive shelter from the rain and snow for fans up in the Gods.

The electricity generated by the panels is tiny, only enough to power the lights 25 times over. Given the expense of the panels, which each take six hours to craft by hand, this is a cost ratio that would be the equivalent of buying a super flash car that does 22 yards to the gallon.

So what's the equation here? According to Forbes, NRG has scooped deals with four of the five highest-valued teams in the NFL.

Regardless of the price of the panels or the cents per kWh NRG can charge, the company will be a winner come next season when the Superbowl final will be played in the MetLife Stadium.

Last season, 111.3m viewers tuned in to watch the Giants beat the Patriots in the final earlier this year. Advertisers paid an average of US$3.5m to flash their brands in front of the crowds for just 30 seconds.

But some NFL plans have been over-ambitious. Jeff Lawrie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, wanted to take the stadium off the grid entirely.

“Anyone who would listen to this thing would know that it wasn't going to work,” said Crane.

Other plans for NRG to work its way through the Forbes list of top NFL teams are thwarted by regulators' restrictions on third party ownership, such as Florida and Georgia.

Crane said that 18 of the 32 NFL teams attended a presentation soon after the Eagles' announcement. Almost every team contacted them afterwards. But the keen teams in the wrong states were given a short, hard lesson in the asymmetry of state-based energy regulations that choke the development of solar.

“We had a call from the Atlanta Falcons,” said Crane. “What can you do for me in Atlanta? they asked. We had to say I'm sure you guys have decent sun down there but you're also in Southern Company's territory; we're basically not allowed to do business down there. So the only thing I can do for you is give you the phone number of the CEO of the Southern Company … good luck.

“What it needs is further deregulation of the power industry. But the traditional power companies, they're going to fight it. We can't offer that opportunity in Georgia. We had a phenomenal drawing of what we could do for the Miami Dolphins.

“We see the NFL as very important to that and we're very proud of what [we've done so far]. It's just the beginning, so we want to get the snowball rolling.”


2 December 2021
Intersolar is the world’s leading exhibition & conference series for the solar industry. As part of this event series, Intersolar India in Mumbai is India’s most pioneering exhibition and conference for India’s solar industry. It takes place annually and has a focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production and solar thermal technologies. Since 2019, Intersolar India is held under the umbrella of The smarter E India – India’s innovation hub for the new energy world.
9 December 2021
The Smart Energy Council is hosting Australia’s second Virtual Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition on Thursday, 9 December 2021. This event will show that the industry powers on despite COVID-19 and we are standing together undeterred in spirit. Bringing our global community together using the latest technology.
13 January 2022
Intersolar North America and Energy Storage North America “Come Together” for the first time in Long Beach, CA—connecting installers, developers, utilities, technology providers, policy makers, and key stakeholders from around the world to advance the clean energy future. With best-in-class conference programming, integrated exhibits and pavilions, and the live Solar Games installer competition, #isnaesna21 will showcase the industry trends, innovative solutions, and emerging talent transforming the solar, energy storage, and e-mobility markets. Register today to redeem our exclusive offer for PV Tech readers—free expo hall or 20% off full conference pass.
1 February 2022
As Solar Finance & Investment enters its ninth year, we sit on the cusp of a new power market with solar at its heart. The 2022 edition of the event will build on our years of expertise and relationships to bring investors and lenders together with top developers. Connect with leaders in the field and use exclusive insights to drive investment and development decisions for the future. Meet new and existing project partners at the largest gathering of European solar investors and lenders.
23 February 2022
Held annually since 2016, the Energy Storage Summit Europe is the place to be for senior stakeholders in the European storage industry. Designed to accelerate deployment of storage, we examine evolving chemistries, business models, project design, revenue stacks and use cases for storage. The 2022 edition will include exclusive content around longer duration solutions, energy strategies for wide-scale deployment of EVs and "EnTech", the event which sits at the intersection of digitisation, decentralisation and decarbonation of the power system. Come to meet TSOs, DSOs, Utilities, Developers, Investors and Lenders and leave with new contacts, partners and a wealth of information.
7 March 2022
Take your chance to join the most powerful platform in the MENA region. Middle East Energy (MEE), Intersolar, and ees, the leading energy exhibitions are joining hands to co-deliver an outstanding renewables and energy storage event at Middle East Energy 2021. Renewables and energy storage at MEE is the largest gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the Middle East & Africa, offering the most effective trade focused platform to international manufacturers and distributors looking to meet regional buyers.

Read Next

December 1, 2021
Major US bank Wells Fargo has closed its maiden tax equity investment into a colocated solar-storage project currently under construction in New Mexico, US.
PV Tech Premium
December 1, 2021
The price of shipping containers from Asia to Europe and North America remains high but should start to come down in the new year, although the main price drops won’t occur in earnest until 2023 when new capacity is brought online. That additional capacity, however, may be offset by new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules to address the industry’s emissions
December 1, 2021
Enefit Green, the renewables subsidiary of Estonian state-owned utility Eesti Energia, is looking to procure up to 500MW of solar modules in the next three years.
December 1, 2021
Tech major Amazon has added a further 2GW to its committed utility-scale solar PV capacity, adding projects in the US and Europe to its renewables portfolio.
December 1, 2021
Global solar PV deployment is on track to grow by 17% this year in spite of surging commodity prices increasing manufacturing costs, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
December 1, 2021
The European Commission (EC) has approved the extension of Poland’s auction scheme for renewable resources that is predicted to support the creation of 9GW of renewables after it passed EU state aid rules

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
February 1, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
February 23, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 23, 2022
Austin, Texas, USA
Solar Media Events
March 29, 2022
Lisbon, Portugal