What Did The Super Bowl Blackout Highlight?

Super Bowl Blackout

Image: AP

The Associated Press reported that a power failure at the Louisiana Superdome was a concern before Superbowl XLVII.

The incident came as no surprise to locals who had suffered numerous, long-lasting outages during Hurricane Isaac just a few months earlier. New Orleans’ creaking infrastructure and antiquated power grid was old news, but not much is being done to remedy the situation.

As much as 85 per cent of New Orleans was without power during Hurricane Isaac and more than 60,000 people were without power for over four days. It took longer than a week for 99 per cent of power to be restored. Repaired levees at least coped with the deluge but that was the only bright spot as debate raged over the lack of investment in public infrastructure.

The main issue is the expense of updating the New Orleans grid. Estimates for transitioning to buried power lines suggest as much as $1.5 billion is needed.

Super Bowl Blackout

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Residents argue that the needs of locals are losing out to the tourism industry. The city’s most recent infrastructure project is the $53 million streetcar line that connects the city’s Amtrak station to the start of the French Quarter. Locals argued the new 1.2-mile line, constructed in time for the Super Bowl, was an unnecessary project when so many are without adequate public transportation and when so many New Orleans roads are in desperate need of attention.

For more than half an hour, as the Super Bowl was plunged into darkness, a global audience’s attention was primarily focused on the Superdome.

Energy market research consultancy Pike Research offers a few suggestions but also argues that the Superdome did at least get some things right.

Super Bowl Blackout

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For starters, they point out that not all of the lights in fact went out. One-third managed to stay on, indicating that the uninterruptible power supply system (UPS) worked. The challenge when designing a back-up system is balancing the maximum number of diesel generators with the minimal amount of load. That only one-third stayed on showed it was three times too small.

That the LEDs in the emergency stairs also stayed on meant success in terms of health and safety; it stopped crowds from panicking. They also stayed on within the external walls of the stadium. This highlighted both the environmental and management benefits of LEDs compared with sodium high density discharge (HID) lamps used elsewhere in the stadium.

LEDs consume only a fraction of the power and require no warm-up time and therefore little electricity to manage the current, compared with the HIDs which took 20 minutes to regain full luminosity. More extensive use of LEDs would have reduced the load on the UPS and reduced significantly the time needed to get the game going again.

Super Bowl Blackout

Al Bello/Getty Images

The lights were not the only issue though. Pike says there were clearly failures in the wiring of the building’s critical circuits which caused loss of power for the TV network, including the commentators and cameras, as well as the 49ers coach’s communications system.

The electrical design engineers clearly got some things right but they also failed in other areas. Ultimately, the Super Bowl blackout wasn’t the end of the world and no one was hurt.

It delayed proceedings, but in the end, even the blackout couldn’t take the shine off what was a fantastic game.

By Justin McGar
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