Smart Grid

February 05, 2013

Lights Out at Super Bowl Attributed to Legacy Power Equipment

Conspiracy theories and Beyoncé’s high-voltage halftime act aside, it looks as if the34-minute Super Bowl power outage that occurred just 90 seconds into the third quarter—causing confusion among ticket-holding fans and 108.4 million television viewers worldwide—can be attributed to the same problem dogging utilities for months: an aging and unreliable legacy power infrastructure.

According to an Associated Press (News - Alert) report, memos exchanged as early as last fall by state officials, the venue’s management team and the local power utility shed some light on the problem. At that time, Entergy New Orleans and the Superdome's engineering staff "had concerns regarding the reliability of the … service from Entergy's connection point to the Dome."

Tests on the electrical feeders that connect incoming power from utility lines to the stadium showed decay and "a chance of failure," officials warned in the communiqué, dated October 15. The memo was prepared for the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, the state body responsible for the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

To head off the imminent problem, authorities then authorized spending nearly $1 million on Superdome improvements—including more than $600,000 spent to upgrade the dome's electrical feeder cable system in December.

"As discussed in previous board meetings, this enhancement is necessary to maintain both the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena as top tier facilities, and to ensure that we do not experience any electrical issues during the Super Bowl," said an LSED document obtained by AP and dated December 19.

Superdome commission records show a $513,250 contract to replace feeder cables was awarded to Allstar Electric, a company based in suburban New Orleans.

A lawyer for the LSED, Larry Roedel said Monday a preliminary investigation found the replacement work done in December did not appear to have caused Sunday's outage.

Entergy and the company that manages the Superdome, SMG, said Sunday that an "abnormality" in the electric load occurred where stadium equipment intersects with an Entergy electric feed, causing a breaker to create the 34-minute outage. They emphasized that once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue.

Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed, and Entergy and SMG subsequently coordinated start up procedures, ensuring that full power was safely restored.

Meters showed the 76,000-seat stadium was drawing no more electricity than it does during a typical New Orleans Saints game, according to Doug Thornton, the Superdome manager. In addition, he said, because it was a cool night, the power consumption was actually below that of a New Orleans Saints game during August or September, when the air conditioners are working overtime.

He also ruled out Beyoncé's electrifying halftime performance, noting that she supplied her own generator.

Superdome officials had hoped the Super Bowl would showcase to the world the $336 million in renovations that have been made to the stadium since it sustained massive water and wind damage in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina.

It looks as if some more renovations may be necessary—including the installation of a next-generation electric grid—if the stadium is truly to be state of the art.

Edited by Braden Becker