Headline research findings have mapped out the uptake of biodiesel and renewable power across the UK festival sector, providing recommendations for increasing demand towards a low carbon future for the creative industries. Conducted by Julie’s Bicycle, the University of Sussex and the Power Providers Forum – an informal network of power suppliers and festival promoters – the research shows that UK music festivals consume about 12 million litres of diesel per year, generating an estimated 48,000MWh of electricity and 31,600t CO2e emissions.

This energy use is the equivalent of powering –10,000 homes for a year; a significant statistic which the authors say is due to the inefficiency of diesel generators that normally run at an average of only 40 per cent fuel efficiency and therefore use much more energy to power equipment compared to the national grid.

Waste vegetable oil (WVO) biodiesel is currently meeting three to six per cent of this festival power supply demand, and on-site renewable energy – solar powered battery, temporary wind or pedal power – is meeting just – 0.026 per cent. Current capacity of renewables is 0.1 per cent (91kW) of demand. The uptake of renewable power is currently dominated by a small number of committed festivals, and festivals certified Industry Green (IG) use an average of 12 per cent WVO biodiesel and renewable energy.

A number of recommendations have been identified by the research partners to drive the uptake of alternative power sources at festivals. They include: Festivals understanding and reducing their energy demand, including better planning and rationalising of generators, and using more energy efficient kit for PA and lighting; Tour bus operations significantly reducing energy demand; increasing the supply of WVO biodiesel through better information, and energy suppliers providing better information about the power and entertainment output provided by diesel, biodiesel and renewable installations to increase confidence and promote forward planning.

The Power Providers Forum Steering Group, which includes Julie’s Bicycle, Kambe Events/Shambala Festival, A Greener Festival, Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Firefly Solar and Glastonbury, is now developing a programme to increase the use of WVO biodiesel and renewable energy at festivals based on these recommendations.

Shambala has reduced its own carbon footprint per person by over 50 per cent in three years, and has proved it is possible to run a medium sized festival (10,000) on 98 per cent wind, sun and waste vegetable oil. Now, it has formed an alliance with Julie’s Bicycle – The Green Festival Alliance will meet again in January to create an action plan for the industry based on the research above, and following a Power Behind Festivals symposium in January last year.

Jim Creed, owner, Powerline, argues that industry suffers from ignorance – but it’s not just the ignorance of the carbon burners. He suggests that even those who are pushing the green message are guilty of having no consideration for what goes on outside of their own remit. If industry is to change then it requires a broader vision. Those driving the green energy message need to appreciate what they need to contribute, as carbon footprint issues do not begin when event infrastructure arrives on-site.

But some power suppliers may need some extra convincing.

According to Andy Johnson, director, Sparks Power, constant requests for biofuel are annoying.

“People should do their research and look at the sums. If festivals are using 12 million litres of diesel, if we can change to biodiesel then where do we get 12 million litres from? You can only produce so much and we’d be growing crops all over the place.”

Johnson describes the use of biodiesel as elitist. But he also argues that it’s easier for large-scale organisers to get the sizing of their equipment right.

“If a generator is running at 70-80 per cent capacity then it is being fuel efficient. There are so many events that will always over specify their requirements because they are unsure of their power requirements. Efficiency can be achieved if people are prepared to map their energy requirements, but it requires a lot of work and organisers of smaller events cannot always warrant the time. Yes, it’s the right thing to do but people look at the amount of time they have, or haven’t got.

“People are not interested in CO2 reductions, yet as soon as you talk about reductions in cost and fuel price then people are interested. People don’t realise that if they use less fuel and burn less diesel then they produce less CO2.

“One area that organisers can save money is on lighting. Sound only takes up 20 per cent of the power requirement on a stage, and it’s nothing compared to lighting. If organisers looked at lighting it would have a dramatic effect on power usage on their main stage.”

Johnson argues that technology will drive energy efficiency and it’s a point shared by Tweed Hurlocker, managing director, Fourth Generation.

“Everyone needs power and that’s the way it is. Do you want it on or off,” he laughs. “Until someone comes up with a better way of making electricity we are stuck with it, but technology will be the biggest driver.”

Hurlocker reiterates Johnson’s point – organisers are guilty of having too much power on site for the simple reason that there’s not enough information being gathered during the planning stages, and he says that since the beginning of 2011, when the Government changed diesel specifications, all red diesel contains a percentage of biodiesel, increasing the specifications so that things burn cleaner – eight per cent in fact.

Johnson suggests that a metering system may force contractors to use less power on site but technology would have to be invested in first to allow the monitoring of usage. He cites caterers as the most wasteful in relation to energy, yet says that the whole industry needs to change dramatically in order to make savings.

Creed is keen to participate in the energy debate and states that hydrogen is probably the answer, as currently there is no substitute for generator gas oil in the volumes that it’s required and needed.

“It’s all well using LEDs but the infrastructure and stuff that happens on an event site’s periphery is a big necessity. Organisers need to look at a complete show and not address areas in one corner of an event. With a certain amount of care, alternatives can be used to achieve savings,” he says. “But there has to be something in it for everyone for it to work.”

Creed suggests the use of light reactive switches and timers on festoon lighting, and says that whilst LED lighting requires less power, it needs a controlled and steady voltage supply. He believes that advancements in lighting technology are beyond half way to achieving maximum efficiency, says that fuel systems are already 20 per cent more efficient than they were 10 years ago and argues that production companies need to address energy efficiency more.

Kambe Events’ Chris Johnson concludes: “Promoters are often reluctant to explore power efficiency and low carbon options. We have all got cosy with the ‘plug and play’ norm. But we are now seeing that you can make significant savings, reduce carbon emissions, and maintain reliability with a commitment to better planning and new technology which is already in the market place – what we have to do is support the new ideas to make them the norm.”

The power debate rages on!  Utilise the discussion box below to keep the movement…moving…