If you weren’t one of last night’s 100-million-plus Super Bowl viewers, by now you’ve probably heard that a stadium-wide power outage stalled the game for 34 minutes.

Was it a conspiracy by CBS to sell more advertising? One brand team used the dark time to quickly execute an Oreo cookie twitter campaign which said “Power Outage? You Can Still Dunk In The Dark." Or maybe the 34 minutes was paid for by Caterpillar, hoping to drive awareness for their backup generators? It could certainly help the calculation of the monetary value for reliable backup generation.

But NRG says that there was a full backup system in place and, after a portion of the electrical network overloaded, it operated as designed and power was restored. CBS also claimed full backup, and although they didn’t stop broadcasting, the booth with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz was off the air for 30 minutes.

So while engineers begin studying how the backup system could have restored power faster, eventually they’ll come to the stadium’s lighting.

You probably know stadium lighting from afar. It could be from when you were last a spectator at a major sporting event and noticed the lighting towers, each holding ten to 100 individual round dome-shaped fixtures. If you’ve been on a lit neighborhood playing field, you might remember that annoying background buzzing sound or that the lights need a warm-up period before practice can begin. Whether its the Super Bowl or your town field, we’ve all been exposed to this high intensity discharge (HID) based lighting.

Each HID fixture draws 1 to 1.5 kilowatts of energy. As a comparison, to provide reliable electricity service to your home, a local utility will likely model 1.5 to 2 kilowatts of demand. And here’s a shocker -- HIDs are not energy-efficient. The light output from an HID lamp degrades quickly, with each fixture giving out less light for the same amount of power consumed. Once the default lighting type for other high-mounting height locations like warehouses, factories and gymnasiums, over the last decade HIDs have broadly been replaced by more energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, and, more recently, long-lasting LEDs.

But the Super Bowl feature that stands out most is instant on, instant off.

What many didn’t pick up last night is the fact that even with power restored, HID systems take ten to fifteen minutes just to come to full light output -- or roughly half of last night’s downtime. Not exactly what we’ve all come to expect from a light switch at home or at our office. In energy efficiency land, not being able to turn something on when needed and off when not is a killer. The world is moving toward demand-based everything -- controls should automatically know when you need something and when you don’t -- and the need to turn things on and off accordingly.

So the Super Bowl power outage may actually have been a commercial in disguise -- and anyone selling HID lighting was not using Twitter to tell the world how much they enjoyed it.


Jon Guerster is the CEO of Groom Energy Solutions. This piece was originally published on Groom's blog.