Rio 2016: a step in the green direction? 

According to the Rio 2016 energy figures, published by the Center on Global Energy Policy from Columbia University in New York, approximately 29.5 GW of energy were required to power the event.

“Events usually rely a lot on temporary power provided on site by generators fueled by diesel,” a spokesperson from the Rio 2016 Games sustainability team told pv magazine. However, since around 75% of Brazilian electricity comes from renewable sources -mainly hydropower-, the main strategy was “to use as much grid energy as possible and push for the reduction of the use of temporary power generators,” she added. “In order to achieve this, new electrical distribution lines were installed from two different utility power substations to ensure power reliability and reduce the number of generators needed at the Barra Olympic Park.”

The Barra Olympic Park is a cluster of nine sporting venues in Barra da Tijuca, which is in the western part of Rio de Janeiro.

Whenever the use of temporary generators was unavoidable, said the spokesperson, a number of such generators, required as backups in the case of a supply shortage, were deployed in ‘cold standby’ mode, meaning they were almost never running. All of these generators were fueled by a mixture of fuel, including 20% biodiesel, which is also a renewable energy.

Demand side

However, as well as energy supply for the event, they also focused on the demand side, the spokesperson added. “Thus, we always planned the operational energy demand carefully (for example, we fully assessed the air conditioning needs in non-critical space, aiming at finding opportunities for prioritizing natural ventilation and reducing the demand for central air conditioning systems) and reduced the primary power load needed through the use of energy efficient equipment and appliances, and energy management.”

As a result, “the demand side effort has delivered a reduction of 18.3% in the total energy demanded for the Games in relation to the 2013 baseline, while regarding the venues constructed for the Games, the demand side strategy has been axed in the use of bioclimatic passive architecture in order to prioritize natural lightening,” the Games’ sustainability team told pv magazine.

An example was the Rio 2016 aquatic centre, which has 15,000 tiny holes that allow the natural flow of air through the complex. “Without them,” Columbia University says, “the equivalent of 10000 household air condition units would be needed.”

Solar PV contribution

Aside from the Barra Olympic Park, the Rio 2016 Games took place in three additional Olympic ‘clusters:’ in Copacabana, Deodoro and Maracanã.

The Maracanã cluster includes the Estadio do Maracanã; the venue for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

In 2014, Yingli Green Energy, Light ESCO, EDF Consultoria and the State of Rio de Janeiro partnered to install a 400 KW solar PV system at the Maracanã Stadium. The system is installed “on the surface covering the stadium terraces and can reach a generation of 500 megawatt hours per year supplying 3% of the stadium’s power requirements,” Fabiana Castro, communication officer of Maracana’s operating company, told pv magazine ahead of the 2014 World Cup, also hosted in Brazil.

Additionally, “solar energy is used for water heating at the Carioca Arenas in the Olympic Park and at the Rio 2016 head offices,” said the Rio 2016 sustainability office. Rather surprisingly, the Rio 2016 headquarters is the first commercial building in Brazil to adopt LEDs, added Columbia University.

Giving the Olympic Games a green makeover

Based on the information received by the press office of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, there is no set renewable energy policy for the games. Rather, it is a matter dependent on the host nation.

The London 2012 Games used a fleet of biomass boilers, which provided the baseload power needed throughout the day by burning scrap wood. Given Japan’s stellar solar PV deployment, there are hopes that Tokyo 2020 will source a large portion of its power from the sun.

Japan’s energy mix was fundamentally transformed following the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the immediate closure of all of Japan’s nuclear plants. Nuclear energy accounted for about 30 percent of the country’s energy mix before the Fukushima disaster, yet today only one nuclear plant is in operation. Japan’s target is to have 20% of its energy mix nuclear and 24% renewable energies (up from about 3% percent currently) by 2030. Japan’s cumulative solar PV capacity is currently about 40 GW. However, the country needs to import about 84% of its energy requirements.

On the contrary, Brazil, which has the third largest electricity usage on the American continent, behind the USA and Canada, is energy self-reliant. There is controversy though as to what extent of Brazil’s electricity is green, given that its large hydro dams often destroy the environment. Greenpeace, for instance, claims that the Brazilian government’s plan to grant permission for over 40 mega dams in the heart of the Amazon forest will completely destroy the Amazon’s environment.

Brazil has started developing other forms of renewable energy too. It has installed 9 GW of wind power and is going to tender new solar PV capacity in December, for which an impressive 13.4 GW of solar PV capacity bids have been submitted.