Superbowl LII: An Inside Look at a Community's Energy Usage

By Emily Riskalla posted 02-09-2018 09:41


Emily Riskalla, IDEA

Each year, as the Superbowl approaches and the rivalries heat up, (this year consisting of whole food groups being banned in New England), the electric utility industry braces for the impact. While the Superbowl seems excessive in many ways, we eat 1.3 billion chicken wings and consume over 320 million gallons of beer, one thing that is not consumed in astounding numbers during the big game is electricity. The reason for this is that everyone is watching the Superbowl together. Superbowl Sunday is about collective football watching. We head out to bars in droves, park it on our neighbors’ couches with 15 of our closest friends, all to watch the biggest game of the year and the most entertaining commercials on communal TVs.  And while the overall amount of power consumed during the big game is not nearly as excessive as one might think, there are still plenty of spikes and dips throughout the game that cause regional utilities to be on alert. 

As Ted Borer, Energy Plant Manager at Princeton University, points out “through the use of simple electric metering data and correlation to key events during the game, it is possible to infer the collective activities of our community”. What’s even more interesting is how the aggregate activities of PSEG customers in New Jersey compare to students on Princeton’s campus.

Ted has been collecting and analyzing this data for a number of years in an effort to identify and eliminate energy waste on campus. And while this year did not provide any new insights since years passed, it certainly did re-inforce old lessons:

  1. The Superbowl is a big deal to millions of people. The start and end of halftime can cause as much as 1% swing in total electricity use for the entire PSEG utility grid in just a few minutes. On campus the swing can be as much as 3%.  
  2. It’s easy to correlate every major event on the field with big swings in power use. After every TD or extra point, there’s a series of commercials. As soon as the commercials start people who care about the game (PSEG customers in aggregate) leave the living room, flush the toilet, wash their hands, open the fridge, run the stove or microwave, and start the dishwasher. All of those activities relate to the use of electricity.
  3. After the commercials people for whom this is mostly a “social event” (students on campus) go out and use the bathroom and get more food.
  4. So power use in the PSEG territory spikes at the beginning of half-time. Power use on Princeton campus stays steady during half-time since the students care more about Justin Timberlake than the average PSEG customer. Then they get the next beer and heat up the Superbowl snack of choice after half time.
  5. If two major events occur very close together, the use in power associated with the second event is smaller. Everyone already has an empty bladder and refilled their glasses and plates.
  6. There’s a notable power spike just after the end of the game. Picture a few million trays of leftovers being put into the fridge and a few million dishwashers starting.

Whether you were stocking up on Boston Crème donuts this year or gorging on Philly cheesesteaks, this football phenomenon provided valuable insight into our energy use as a collective community.

Empirical data provided by Ted Borer, Energy Plant Manager, Princeton University.