REPORTING BACK: EE MUSIC Festival Training, UK: 8 December 2014

On December 8, EE MUSIC in partnership with Powerful Thinking collected a group of festival professionals for an insightful day of discussion around outdoor event energy management with energy and production experts.

Our speakers were:

  • Sid Rogerson - experienced power technician
  • Chris Johnson - Powerful Thinking and Shambala Festival
  • Rob Scully – site and production manager and energy consultant
  • Andy Mead - Firefly Clean Energy: solar and hybrid systems
  • Chiara Badiali - Julie's Bicycle and EE MUSIC

 Present were representatives from, or production companies working with, festivals and events including WOMAD, Standon Calling, Bestival, Love Saves the Day, Glastonbudget, Brisfest and more.

 The overall feeling was that we are at a turning point in the UK. Through the efforts of Powerful Thinking and pioneering festivals and suppliers in the UK, the conversation around energy at outdoor events has changed dramatically in the past couple of years: we have more data, knowledge, and skills than ever before, and increasing numbers of skilled, reliable and proven suppliers are available on the market who can manage energy efficiently and/or provide renewable energy solutions of increasing capacity to temporary event sites.

 Now, it’s up to the industry to continue expanding this knowledge-base, to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, and to build up skills among event organisers and production professionals so that we can increase the number of events pro-actively addressing their energy use and participating in the conversation.

A quick overview and introduction to the topics covered can be found in the EE MUSIC Festival Handbook and the Powerful Thinking ‘The Power Behind Festivals’ Guide.



Some key learnings that came out of the day:


  • Understand your different areas and power systems.
    • Areas that need constant power at a constant level vs. areas of variable load
  • Then choose: what is the best way to power this system now that we understand its load? Design the power system to match what you have and what you are doing.
    • Some festivals (such as Croissant Neuf) have taken the opposite approach: committing to using only renewable power, they calculated the capacity of their power system and then planned their operations and equipment around the limited amount of power available.
    • Headline lighting requirements are often the main ‘spike’ in energy consumption on site – are we going to design our whole power system that we are using for 5 days around that peak one hour show on one evening or is there another way we can meet that load?
    • For catering/bar areas which generally have a high day load (everything is on) and low night load (everything other than catering refrigeration is off) it may make sense to have two different sized generating sets: one for day and one for night.
    • Synchronised sets are a good way to achieve fuel use reduction: join multiple generators into a system, turn on one by one as the load on the system increases (also allows redundancy).
    • Hybrid sets (where an inverter automatically switches between a battery and a generator depending on the load and power required) are most effective where power on demand is needed and where energy demand is variable. They are better for smaller applications (they currently work with generators up to 100-150 kVA) and can achieve 50-60% reductions in generator run-time if deployed effectively.
    • Solar power is good for isolated areas e.g. outpost cabins – and if it can meet the whole power demand of an area will eliminate refuelling trips.
    • Make sure you take advantage of any mains grid connection available to you – it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly, and can help you design a more fuel-efficient system.
  • Speak to your power provider. Don’t just rely on them.
  • Monitor your energy and fuel use and generator loads! But remember that you do need to ask your power provider for data ahead of the event.
    • Recent monitoring projects continue to identify huge inefficiencies such as peak loads at as low as 10-20% of generator capacity, generators running at zero load when they could have/should have been turned off, etc.
    • Having this kind of data will also enable you to have more effective conversations with your power provider, contractors, stage managers, etc. and provide you with evidence to back up any requested changes.
    • Now is the time event organisers can really ask for monitoring and data and collaboration on efficiency: new technology (e.g. telemetry) is making it feasible.
    • A lot of new generators have telemetry capacity: if you insert a SIM card, it can send you data directly.
    • You could also get temporary monitors for generators if they do not have in-built ones. This can be costly – but you can get a few and move them around throughout the festival, or prioritise certain high-consuming areas of the festival.
  • Keep up to date with technology and think about how to apply it
    • Many efficiency developments are currently being driven by the construction industry – look to them for new innovations.
    • Lighting towers can be a great way to charge small devices during build/break periods and use for applications such as testing cabin lighting (avoiding the need for generators to do this).
    • Portable autonomous battery power packs that can be used to charge phones etc. have also been invaluable at conserving fuel during build/break periods at Shambala and other festivals as they mean generators can be turned on later.
    • New Combined-Heat-and-Power generators use waste heat from the generator to heat water – what could be the possible applications in a festival context?
  • When doing cost comparisons, don’t just count the cost of equipment and service: also consider your fuel bill.
  • Think about where the responsibility and liability for fuel use is: can you construct contracts in a way that rewards for efficiency?
  • We need a change of culture in site planning that considers energy and power systems in addition to aesthetics and other considerations.
    • If you have the option of a ‘central compound’, this is a very efficient way of powering the site – or group/cluster areas, e.g. 5 zones designed around 5 electrical systems.
  • Reducing and managing power demand on site depends on a combination of effectively communicating reduction policies, accurately assessing requirements, and control/management on-site.
    • Engaging traders can be achieved through incentives such as green trader awards linked to e.g. half-price pitch-fees in the next year, or disincentives such as charging more for more power consumed.


 The fuel costs of transporting any additional, smaller generators for better system design will generally be outweighed by the fuel savings made by not running generators inefficiently – and if you are using less fuel on site in generators, you are also reducing the amount of fuel that needs to be transported to site.


Reducing the amount of fuel being used on site can also have added H&S benefits, as you will reduce the amount of vehicle movement required on site for refuelling.


 Biodiesel Q&A:


  • Usually, a blend of up to 20% biodiesel is covered under equipment warranty.
  • There are no fundamental differences necessary for an engine to use biodiesel, although some small adjustments/modifications may be made to increase the resilience to biodiesel as it has some different properties.
  • Biodiesel does not damage engines – but it is a good solvent. So it strips red diesel residue in generators which can then clog filters – this is why generators are generally assigned one or the other (red vs biodiesel)


 The debate around whether electric vs. gas-powered urns are more sustainable is on-going – but gas urns are probably better as they are using a direct energy source rather than, as is the case with electric urns, burning fuel to create electricity to create heat with loss at every stage.


 One key difficulty to achieve a more joined-up approach for energy efficiency particularly at larger events can be that budgets are divided by departments – so it can be difficult to make the case for e.g. cabins with PIR sensors and efficient heating in the infrastructure budget when any fuel savings will be in the power budget. How can organisers take this into account and incentivise efficiency across the board?




 Further reading, including case studies:


EE MUSIC case studies

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