On February 3 of this year, during the height of Super Bowl XLVII, the lights went out in the Louisiana Superdome. Players and fans were left in the dark and the game was delayed for more than a half hour. Life without power is a rarity for Americans, something that generally occurs during thunderstorms or heatwaves or in fluky instances like at the Super Bowl. In Africa, though, living without access to power is a reality that faces some 550 million people.
President Obama and other world leaders are seeking to change that — Obama launched a new initiative, dubbed Power Africa, during a trip to the continent this summer — and in praising that plan in Foreign Policy magazine, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf revealed an amazing, maddening statistic: “Cowboys Stadium near Dallas, Texas, uses more electricity than the total installed capacity of my country.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing an energy analyst, cross-checked the claim and found that on game days, the Cowboys’ home, AT&T Stadium, indeed uses more energy than Liberia. In fact, according to the Journal, Liberia “has the capacity to pump less than a third as much power into its national grid” as the 10 megawatts of energy it takes to power AT&T Stadium, replete with its 25,000 square-foot video board, at peak demand on a normal game day. And even if Liberia uses more power than the Cowboys when the stadium isn’t at peak power, “professional football (not to mention professional sports) beats Liberia” overall, the analyst, Bob Brackett, told the Journal.
There are two ways to read this. One is that it takes an absurd amount of energy to power a stadium like AT&T and that we should be reining in our energy consumption at sporting events. According to one study of the English Premier League, the average soccer match in England has a carbon footprint of 5,160 metric tons, equivalent to the energy consumption of half a million gallons of gas or enough to power 772 American homes each year.
On that front, sports are trying to improve. Leagues like the National Basketball Association are holding promotions to make both their teams and fans more environmentally conscious and sustainable, and two environmental groups recently joined in an effort to make college football stadiums and the campuses on which they sit more energy efficient. Stadiums throughout sports are now touting their LEED certifications and the ways in which they reduce energy use.
The other way to read this, though, is that our outsized consumption of energy stands in stark contrast to energy access in other countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 1 percent of Liberians have access to daily electricity, according to Sirleaf, while the remainder rely “on unreliable and inefficient sources of energy such as firewood, charcoal, candles, kerosene, battery-powered flashlights, palm oil, and small gasoline and diesel generators.” That’s both bad for Africans and for the environment, since they increase pollution and the adverse health effects that go along with it, especially relative to more sustainable energy delivery methods. Some African countries have recently begun upping their investments into solar energy in an attempt to both increase energy capacity and mitigate the effects of climate change on the continent.
Power Africa, the Obama initiative, wants to double electricity access across five African countries by using coal and gas resources but also by developing clean energy. It’s goal, Sirleaf notes, is to power 20 million new households and businesses by harnessing 10,000 megawatts in new clean energy capacity. There’s no need to give up watching Cowboys football on Sundays. But surely, if we can power a stadium as lavish as Jerry World, we can power homes and businesses in Africa too. And as we do it, we need to be conscious of the impact both powering massive stadiums and increasing energy access in other countries will have on the entire global environment. (HT Field of Schemes)