The 2014 Word Cup kicked off in Brazil this week and while there has been ample criticism over the massive cost of hosting the event, estimated to reach as much as $11.5 billion, a bright spot in the construction is the integration of renewable energy.
Complete with 6,000 solar panels, Mineirão is the first World Cup stadium ever powered by solar energy. The plant’s installed capacity of 1,600 megawatts-hour per year (1.4 MW) is enough to power 1,200 households, according to the Brazilian federal government’s World Cup website. “As it’s not possible to store all the energy, 10 percent of it will be used in powering the Mineirão and the rest will be transferred to consumers,” said Alexandre Maia Bueno with Minas Gerais State Electricity Company (CEMIG), which constructed the plant.
While initial goals included fitting all 12 of the event’s stadiums with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or some other form of green energy, ultimately, only a few could be completed in time. The stadiums will incorporate the solar power in different ways: the rooftop panels on the Mineirão will feed directly back into the grid, while “the Arena Pernambuco in Recife will utilize solar power for facilities including kitchens, changing rooms and toilets at the stadium, with electricity going into the grid when the stadium is not in use,” according to PV Tech.
Two more solar PV systems will be installed on World Cup stadiums in the coming months. The Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasilia “will have about 9,600 photovoltaic panels with capacity to generate 2.5 MW, corresponding to the supply of almost 2,000 households per day,” a World Cup spokesperson told PV Magazine, and will be completed sometime in 2014. And the Fonte Nova Arena in the city of Salvador will install enough PV to reduce the energy consumption of the arena by 10 percent, an amount “equivalent to the average consumption of 3,000 Brazilians.”
The use of solar power in this World Cup also shines a spotlight on global energy poverty, according to a report released this week by British NGO Practical Action. One-third of the countries competing in the event have less solar energy than a single stadium in Brazil. “Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran, Ivory Coast and Uruguay all produce less solar power than the 2.5 MW solar capability of the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasilia. Ghana produces the same amount,” the report found.
Most of these countries rely heavily on fossil fuels to generate electricity. In Ghana, for example, 84 percent of the country’s 23.5 million people rely on dirty solid fuels for energy while only 11 percent of the population has access to clean energy sources.
While Brazil’s investment in sustainability initiatives such as solar power and carbon offsets help to mitigate the impact of the event, those measures only reduce a fraction of the 2.72 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions this World Cup is expected to produce. And as Dave Zirin writes in The Nation, decisions like building one of the stadiums — only to be used for four matches — in the middle of the Amazon rainforest “doesn’t just ignore environmental concerns, it defies logic.” The solar initiatives do, however, represent a positive step forward for lessening the impact of mega events like the World Cup and providing a function for the stadiums once the games are completed. And because Brazil will also play host to the 2016 Olympic Games, solar is expected to factor in to those facilities, as well.