Super Bowl Power Outage Shows How We Regard Energy

February 4, 2013
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And then the lights went out.

And then the lights went out.

Want a good barometer of how our culture views electricity use? Witness the power outage during the Super Bowl last night. Details of exactly what caused the 34-minute power loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans have yet to emerge. And we’re not going to preach about being more energy-efficient or having better electrical equipment at big events like this until we learn more.

Could the power outage have had something to do with the Beyonce’s extravagant light and music show? Was it the result of faulty equipment in the dome or a power surge or voltage spike? Is it a faulty grid? For now, power company Entergy and Superdome operator SMG point to an abnormality sensed by the Superdome’s monitoring system, which opened a breaker, causing the power to be partially cut.

We’re more concerned with how people responded—and with the Super Bowl being played in front of a TV audience of more than a 100 million, plus the scads of tweets sent, the power failure provided a nice peek into the sociology of energy usage.

First, it shows how utterly dependent we are on electricity and the technologies that use it. Backup generators came on almost immediately, and it looked as thought there was enough light to play a football game. But the CBS broadcast booth went black, eliminating the announcers. The San Francisco 49ers’ sideline did not have power they needed to transmit play analysis and other information from the coaching booth upstairs. Some cameras went out. Escalators stopped working and credit card machines shut down.

The tweets started flying. Advertisers and brands quickly capitalized. Audi cleverly tweeted about sending LED lights to the Superdome. The tweet received more than 8,000 retweets and was favorited more than 2,000 times, according to early reports.

Mobile energy comparison app Quinzee tweeted:

Perhaps not the best strategy for getting North America talking about energy.

Perhaps Quinzee is right. We would never expect an event like the Super Bowl to turn into a discussion about energy efficiency and conservation—unless the power remained out, severely affecting the game and not just delaying it.

When the Lights Come On

I am always fascinated by what happens when the power comes back on. Almost immediately, we once again take energy for granted. Though announcer Jim Nance quipped to sidekick Phil Simms, “Next time you decide to put in your phone charger, give us a warning.”

Nance’s joke certainly showed some understanding of energy. More and more, we see that people are starting to understand that energy isn’t just something that comes magically out of the wall. Superstorms and frequent power outages from severe weather have a way of doing that, it seems. But we still have a long way to go.

Check out these videos from the Rational Middle about energy and our use of it. Here’s a particularly enlightening one that follows a family through the day and shows how we use energy continuously. Click on the image to go to the web site.

Day in the Life of Energy

Click on the image to go to the video.

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