As traditional fuels become increasingly sparse and expensive and event organisers look towards a greener approach, we chat with renewable energy experts to find out how viable using alternative fuel sources at events is.
With decades of experience in the renewable energy sector between them, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable than Paul Schurink and Tim Benson of ZAP Concepts, a sustainability and energy consultancy business for events. As the Power Expert for Events and Technical Director and Environmental Consultant respectively, we asked the pair about the future of renewable energy at events.
The question of renewable fuel is far from a new one, and the industry has made significant improvements in the last few decades, according to Tim: “There’s been a sort of evolution of biofuel. 20 years ago, we were working with something called B100, which was a biodiesel. No one uses biodiesel anymore, but you will come across it in your daily life at the petrol station when you fill your car up with diesel. It will generally be a blend which is 93% conventional diesel and 7% biodiesel. Biodiesel is part of the FAME family of fuels. This kind of biodiesel is produced by taking cooking oil and refining it. However, it’s a very thick, gloopy fuel and it isn’t compatible with all generators and parts, so HVO started being used instead.”
HVO offers a cleaner fuel source than regular diesel and recent changes in legislation are causing a rise in its popularity: “HVO is a much cleaner fuel overall. It’s often referred to as renewable diesel and it’s very hard to distinguish from regular diesel. There’s an abundance of HVO available now, all the main fuel suppliers in the UK who supply diesel to the events industry can also supply HVO. You do burn slightly more of it that you would do with regular diesel, but the CO2 reductions are considerable. There’s really no reason to say you can’t find a supplier to provide it, but it is slightly more expensive and recent changes in legislation which mean that events can’t use red fuels have pushed the price artificially high.”
“The priority isn’t about fuels or batteries. Organisers need to aim to use less energy in the first place and to use it more efficiently.”
While HVO does have fewer CO2 emissions, it isn’t the cleanest energy source out there: “Another important factor is that HVO is reducing CO2 drastically, but there are still other emissions such as soot to consider,” Paul states. “HVO is a good improvement but it’s not the final goal.”
Thankfully, there are entirely renewable energy options available to event organisers, with a little pre-planning: “If you have access to a grid connection then you can buy renewable energy, which is either produced by wind or by solar power, the only real renewable sources of energy. But to do that for an outdoor event can be quite difficult and it’s almost impossible to do it on a temporary basis. That’s where the batteries come into play. They can be pre-charged with renewable energy and can power a whole event.”
Looking for cleaner fuel sources isn’t the be-all and end-all of sustainability, as Tim explains: “The priority isn’t about fuels or batteries. Organisers need to aim to use less energy in the first place and to use it more efficiently. They have to reduce their demand by using more energy efficient equipment, or it might be as simple as having the generator on a switch on/ switch off schedule rather than leaving things running. The real Holy Grail is to look at your power management and see how you can reduce demand in the first place.”
Running on sustainable fuel requires more thought and organising, but it is doable, as shown by Paul and Ben’s success helping Coldplay run their world tour entirely on sustainable energy sources: “We’ve developed a battery system to power a complete show. It’s also durable so it can be transported in a truck, but also in planes transport used on world tours. When we come to a stadium, we see if there is a grid connection powered by renewable energy, and where this is not available then we use a diesel generator running on HVO.”