The biggest game in football is this weekend and people from around the world will tune in to check out the commercials, , and (hopefully) a great game. One thing that won't be on display this Sunday is any sizeable solar installation. While it might be silly to expect such a thing, stadiums used by National Football League teams are actually pretty natural fits for generating solar power.
Besides their sizable roofs, they often come with large parking lots, covered walkways, sky bridges, attached convention centers and plenty of other spaces for solar panels. In fact, plenty of NFL stadiums already host large solar arrays.
Fourteen of the NFL's 30 stadiums have solar installations. While it's a bit harder to design head-to-head matchups for solar installations than it is for this year's 14 playoff teams, we can still crown a champion of the very first Solar Bowl.
Stadiums are a good fit for solar
One requirement for solar power is open space with a relatively unobstructed view of the sun. Think of the solar panels increasingly going up on the roofs of houses. Rooftops are a great fit for solar because they're open and above a lot of shade-casting obstructions. It's also why old landfills are being reborn as solar farms.
Stadiums are often taller than surrounding structures and accompanied by acres of parking lots. That's a lot of prime, unshaded real estate.
From the other direction, hosting a major event like a NFL game takes a lot of energy. A lot. Back in 2013, AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, demanded up to 10 megawatts of electricity to power lights, concessions, air conditioning and other stadium functions. It was reported at the time that Liberia, a country of over 4 million people at the time, couldn't have provided enough energy to run the stadium that holds 80,000. (That number is peak demand. The stadium uses far less when it's sitting empty. Regardless, it's a lot of electricity.)
Which stadiums have the most solar?
While about half of NFL stadiums have turned to solar to offset their hefty energy use, four stand out above the rest.
The top four stadiums for solar
- Fourth place in this year's Solar Bowl goes to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, which has a 525 kilowatt installation of 2,556 panels, soaking up that famous New England sun. The panels are largely installed on the adjacent Patriots Place shopping center, but since it's next door and obviously tied to the stadium, we'll count it here. The panels produce about 625,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which will cover about 30% of the energy used by Patriots Place.
- Lumen Field in Seattle is home to the Seahawks and 3,750 solar panels covering 2.5 acres [PDF] of the connected convention center's roof. They provide 830,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 95 Seattle homes for a year. Despite its reputation for cloudy weather, Seattle's stadium takes third place in the Solar Bowl.
- Solar Bowl runner up is Mercedes-Benz Stadium of the Atlanta Falcons. The 2017 stadium has over 4,000 panels with a generating capacity of 1.3 megawatts. Per year, it generates a whopping 1.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power nine Falcons home games.
- Solar Bowl champion, without a doubt, is Lincoln Financial Field, home to the Philadelphia Eagles. Eleven thousand solar panels on the stadium and over parking lots have a capacity of 3 megawatts. It covers about 33% of the stadium's energy use annually and more than enough energy to power the home games for a year, a team spokesperson said in an email. The vast majority of the panels cover a parking lot, where they provide solar power, but also shelter from rain and snow. Lincoln Financial Field stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Levi's Stadium (San Francisco 49ers) lands outside the top four with a 375 kw installation of 1,180 panels that, along with other sustainability features, made it the first stadium with LEED gold status. M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens) installed 1,200 solar panels in 2016. The installation's capacity wasn't publicly available, but the panels were two years newer than those in San Francisco, so it may generate a bit more electricity than Levi's Stadium.
MetLife Stadium (New York Jets and New York Giants) have 1,350 panels with a capacity of 350 kw installed around the rim of the stadium. NRG Stadium (Houston Texans) has 599 panels with a capacity of 180 kw installed on walkways leading into the stadium, according to a spokesperson.
GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City Chiefs) had 75 kilowatts of solar panels installed in 2014 at the stadium and surrounding complexes, according to a press release from the team. The release said the panels generated enough power to cook 1.5 million brats a year, though it is unclear whether advances in brat cooking technology in the intervening years has affected that number.
Surprisingly, it can be a bit tricky to track down details about stadium solar panel installations, something you think teams would be trumpeting from the roofs of their solar-covered walkways. (It can be tricky to find a live voice at the end of an offseason switchboard, too.)
Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers), FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland Browns), Ford Field (Detroit Lions), and Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers) all have had solar panels installed, but didn't have the information publicly available or return requests for details.
The Indianapolis Colts also have some solar installed at their practice facility and headquarters, but they're miles from their home, Lucas Oil Stadium.
Fourteen stadiums don't have any solar, including the home of this year's Super Bowl, SoFi Stadium in sunny Los Angeles. After word gets around about this year's prestigious new Solar Bowl, it's almost certain the remaining stadiums will be scrambling to challenge this year's champs.