Lights Out at the Meadowlands

Yesterday evening something shocking occurred at the Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey as the New York Giants faced off against the Dallas Cowboys.  It wasn't just the fact that the Cowboys, 1-7 before the game upset the  Giants who had won their last five games.  Rather, it was that that the stadium experienced two separate blackouts totaling about twelve minutes. 

When the stadium went black in the midst of a Giants possession, players reportedly hit the ground while fans in the pitchblack dome held friends and family hands and flipped out cell phones for light.  The lights came back.  However, the failure of power at a major televised sporting event bears some comment.

The Giants released a stadium afterwards that the first outage of certain lights occurred when one feeder line into the stadium failed.  A second feeder took over but then failed a few minutes later, leading to the total blackout.  Eventually the first feeder was restored allowing the game to continue.  The Meadowlands has received publicity for installing a large solar energy array that meets about half its daytime needs.  This energy used during the day, however, did not come into play during last night's outage.

While accidents happen and the 82,000 fans in the stadium last night didn't panic, a blackout at an NFL game is not a good thing and frankly shouldn't happen in a first world country.  (Tellingly, to rationalize it, all Giants co-owner Steve Tisch could say was "we have all experienced blackkouts in our homes.")  It is one more reason that America needs to update its outdated network to Electricity 2.0.

What might have prevented last night's blackout?  Onsite storage, a smarter grid to rapidly sense problems before they occur and dispatch power accordingly and greater backup capacity--all elements of Electricity 2.0 that increase reliability and network resilience, might have avoided it.  How to get those elements in place?  Open up the network to new technologies and capital.

Last week, NDN hosted an event on microgrids and localized power generation with industry leaders.  Could a microgrid have helped avoid this outage?  By themselves, islanded microgrids do not improve reliablity over the wider network.  However in combination with grid backup they dramatically improve it.  Sports complexes like military sites, univerities, corporate campuses and real estate developments are ideal candidats for microgrid and cogeneration technologies.  However, we need to put in place the policies that can enable them: policies that our panelists identified such as allowing private electricity tielines, switching to outcome-based pollution standards, driving the development of microgrids at DOD installations and the removal of barriers to microgrid-grid connections.