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The Stack Archive

Is San Francisco’s Grid Ready for Super Bowl 50?

Thu 4 Feb 2016

During the football season, NFL pundits and sports fans alike wondered whether San Francisco would be ready to host Super Bowl 50. Now that the game’s mere days away, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll find out. This Sunday the Carolina Panthers will face the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers that just opened in 2014.

But enough talk about football.

Over the course of the year, folks couldn’t help but notice the state of the Levi’s Stadium field. For example, who could forget Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s missed field goal, where his foot sank into the ground, thanks to a shoddy field? Rumor has it they’ve since fixed the field — though the grounds crew mistakenly painted the Broncos’ logo in both end zones.

But — particularly in the wake of the half-hour blackout at Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome in New Orleans — some can’t help but wonder if we’ll see another similar power outage this year.

Not so fast

Sustainability was a high priority during the entire construction of Levi’s Stadium, which is actually located outside San Francisco in Santa Clara. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that the stadium was the first of its kind to open its doors with LEED certification. On top of that, thanks to a green roof and solar energy design elements, Super Bowl 50 will be a net zero to the power grid because of the energy collected and stored throughout the year — or at least that’s what they say.

This, of course, is assuming that the engineers who worked on the project got things right. Which normally wouldn’t be much of an issue to consider, but one can’t help it, thanks to the state of the field. Still, the eyes of the world will be watching Levi’s Stadium. Let’s hope the lights stay on.

The causes of blackouts

If the lights do go out like they did in New Orleans, millions of viewers around the world will be scratching their chins and wondering how it all happened.

Besides the classic unplugged wires resulting in a lack of juice power outages are generally caused by:

Storms. When winds pick up, ice storms occur or earthquakes happen, the power grid can take a hit. Unfortunately, there’s not much anyone can do to prevent these kinds of natural events from occurring. We can only be prepared in the event they happen.

Poor planning. When infrastructure isn’t maintained, it breaks sooner than necessary. Utility companies obviously know this, which is why they regularly maintain their infrastructure. But let’s say decision-makers schedule planned power outages for that maintenance, which just so happen to coincide with unseasonably sweltering temperatures. In 2011, such a planned maintenance took place when it was really hot outside, causing a day-long outage in the Southwest.

Too much energy usage. If it’s sweltering hot outside, folks turn on their air-conditioning units and hope for the best. There’s a problem: When everyone does it at the same time, energy spikes can knock the grid offline.

Car accidents. It happens more than you might imagine: A car loses control and crashes directly into an electric pole or some other piece of infrastructure. All of a sudden, the power goes out, and crews are forced to repair the damage before order can be restored.

Forget classic warfare. In the age of the mobile device and high-speed networks, skilled hackers are able to gain access to power grids if they so choose. Sure, it might be tricky, and it will certainly be dangerous. But once inside, they can control electricity and potentially cause a blackout. Some folks believe these kinds of attacks are becoming more frequent. Certainly, if hackers were able to gain control of the grid during the Super Bowl, things would get a little chaotic.

This week the crew at Levi Stadium will be working double time to clean the stadium and prep the turf with some high-tech equipment. All of their energy and hard work will be focused on making sure that the stadium can comfortably handle this week’s Super Bowl crowd. But will it be enough to make sure that the power grid works throughout the night?

What San Franciscans can do to keep the lights on

Fingers crossed the lights don’t go off at Levi’s Stadium — until the game’s over and everyone is well on their way home.

But the more pessimistic San Franciscans, or at least those who wish to do their part to help, should:

Shut lights off when they’re not using them. You shouldn’t feel bad having all the lights on at your house if you’re having a party. But if you’re just sitting on your couch reading a book, you don’t need all 10 rooms illuminated, for example.

Unplug appliances. You don’t need to leave the espresso machine you use once a year during the holidays plugged in year round. Though these kinds of appliances only suck up a little bit of juice, you should still unplug them if you’re not going to use them any time soon.

Switch to energy-saving bulbs and appliances. Every little part counts. If you’ve not made the switch yet, definitely consider LED light bulbs. They’re inexpensive, and they require 85% less energy to light up compared to their old-fashioned counterparts. When shopping for dishwashers, refrigerators and the like, always go for smart devices. Your energy bill — and the environment — will thank you.

Here’s to an exciting game!


Megan Wild is a writer who has a passion for football, and will be cheering for her brother’s favorite team this weekend, The Broncos. When she’s not watching football, she likes writing about her adventures as a twenty-something on her blog, Your Wild Home.

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