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Going Green at Coachella…

by Ken Deans • in
  • Festival Focus
  • November 2018
• Created: November 12, 2018

…Starting with the Lighting Towers

Power is always a challenge. You need it here, but the disconnect is over there. Miles of cable, cable ramps (which you never have enough of), spilled diesel, it’s a mess! After 35 years of doing festivals, various events, I have probably been responsible for burning enough diesel to get to the moon and back a hundred times. I am always bugged by a light tower being used to charge cell phones, drill batteries, and other things. Really, I am always bugged by light towers in general. My biggest pain is overseeing the fueling of 300+ construction light towers that get deployed at Coachella. The inefficiencies and inconsistencies of the current available models put me on a quest to find a better, fuel efficient and cleaner way to achieve lighting at event grounds. Well, I found it by accident.

For the last 10 years, I have been consulting to industries that are looking to purchase businesses related to the live event industry. One recent consultation was different because Stanley Black & Decker (SBD) had already made the investment and were looking for new verticals of business to deploy their technology. During the call with SBD, I was presented with a technology that is so simple and logical, one wonders why it had not been done before. They had just made an investment in developing renewable battery generators and were looking to see how they could be used in the entertainment industries.

A 5kW Stanley Power Hub battery generator in the Polaris is connected to a solar panel on the roof.

They decided to explore the event world, and that’s where I came in. Having produced concerts, festivals and events in remote places for decades, a degree in electrical engineering (earned via correspondence courses on the bus), and overseeing the annual purchase of hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel at Coachella for generators, I felt very comfortable in raising my hand to answer their questions.

The call went by way too quick, which led to a second call. I should note that these calls are referred to as “one way blinds”. They know everything about me, but they are not allowed to tell me their full names, or company name. Halfway through the second call it became apparent that this was a product I would like to use, and they then proceeded to get permission to speak with me openly. After a couple of calls to my representative at my agency, I met these people.

Enter Corey Klein and Ricardo Rodriquez. Corey is the lead on this project from Stanley Infrastructure located just outside Portland, OR and Ricardo is our liaison to Stanley Black & Decker Corporate in Connecticut. Our first session was two days of lock down in the Portland office. We spent the time deconstructing power needs for Coachella and creating use scenarios. During these sessions, I came up with the plan to build a hybrid energy grid to power the marshalling/truck stop yard for the 2018 Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals.

The mission: replace the current Light Tower Operation. Burning between 8 to 12 gallons of diesel per shift for about 30 days, we exceed 20,000 gallons of diesel, generate noise complaints from the neighbors, and add to our carbon footprint. If I could come up with a plan to mitigate all that, it would not only be great for Coachella and Stagecoach, but the rest of the festival industry as well. The other pain point is the current design of LED lamp heads for light towers are significantly less efficient than the old metal halide style. So, while there is a fuel savings on the LED towers, you need 2X LED towers to cover the same area as the old style and end up being back to the same fuel usage.

Stanley 5 KW Portable Power HUB

With the help of Corey Klein and his team at Stanley Infrastructure, Greg Landa and Jason Thibodeau from Cat Entertainment Services, Jon Cooper from Xeleum Lighting and Control, and Scott Daggatt from Radiance Energy a new paradigm in event lighting and power was born. We decided to do a proof of concept program and here’s how it worked.

First there was the hybrid energy lighting grid. It was comprised of combining two large format Stanley Power Hub battery generators (1 – 20kW and 1 – 40kW) on an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATM) to the CAT Power generator that was powering the truck stop offices. Using this system, we were able to power eight LED light towers for about seven hours on the 40kW Power Hub battery generator.

Separately, we tested the new light tower lighting fixtures designed by Xeleum & Radiance Energy on the 20kW Power Hub battery generator and achieved nine plus hours of fossil fuel-free power. Here is the kicker on these new lamps;

  1. 400 watts vs. 1,500 watts, or 1600 watts per tower vs. the old 6,900 watts.
  2. The Xeleum LED lamps coverage outperformed the metal halide lights by at least 20%.
  3. The Xeleum lamps can be networked and programmed.

Being the first test of these units, we had a few glitches, but soon overcame them to get to a smooth-running operation. Second was the outfitting of Kubota carts with 5kW & 2kW Power Hubs coupled to solar panels we zip tied to the roof, which trickle charged the 5kW, giving the unit around 8kWh of power through the shift. This proved to be more than enough to power festival ops Sean Lacey’s’ six-man crew working on the merchandise tent and other projects.

AG (Andrew Gumper) Lighting Mega-structures crew outfitted a Polaris ATV with the similar 5kW and 2kW units. Shaun Davila (AG Lead) had his crew using impact hammers through the weekend and was happy with how the units performed. There’s much we have heard about the performance of the units, improved capacity over diesel (able to handle a compressor and two saws simultaneously), able to operate remotely where diesel is inefficient, (i.e. welding the Perry- security fence) or inside a closed environment.

Our third part of the program was what I call Set It and Forget it or SiFi. As part of our festival permit we are required to set up five stations surrounding the venue to monitor sound and dust levels. Typically, we would place a light tower at each station to provide power around the clock on festival days. That equates to nearly 1,500 gallons of fuel, 1800 hours of exhaust, 25-man hours of fueling labor, 3 weeks’ cart rental, and again noise and light complaints from the neighbors.

I could not have done this without the support of Goldenvoice and the sustainability group from AEG. Their commitment to advancing green initiatives is strong and inspiring. This is part of the reason I got into this business, to make a difference. After many years, I finally feel like I have survived long enough to be part of something that is making a real contribution to our industry and its future. It is up to all of us to give back. At the end of the day, as a parent, I want all children to have a world to enjoy music and everything else. So, do what you can. Make a difference. I want to pick up the next issue to find out What’s Next!

Ken Deans is a 35-year veteran of the live entertainment and event industry. For the last 10 years he served as the director of logistics for the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals, Desert Trip, Arroyo Seco Weekend and others. Currently he is a producer at Production.Club, developing new business and supporting existing projects.

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