Leading sports and entertainment company AEG has a long history in sustainability, and now it has come up with a potentially game-changing pathway for sports arenas and other facilities to cut their carbon footprints. Last year, AEG tapped its Staples Center venue in Los Angeles to become a global showpiece for new technology that tackles carbon emissions through the energy-water nexus.
Game-saving also describes the new technology, as the system may help the sport of ice hockey survive—and even grow—in a warming world.
The Staples Center opened in 1999 and has embarked on a sustainability mission ever since. By 2010, it became the first facility of its kind to develop a holistic environmental strategy, which achieved international certification in 2013.
This holistic approach enables AEG to spot emerging sustainability trends and act on them. Recent upgrades at Staples Center include 1,727 rooftop solar panels, banks of zero-emission fuel cells, flushless toilets and an LED changeover that was the first of its kind in the U.S.
In addition to acting on new technology, AEG also takes note of other hot topics in sustainability. In one example, last October AEG banned single-use plastic straws at Staples Center, except for special needs accommodation.
AEG piloted a new energy-efficient climate control system at the Staples Center during the 2017-2018 hockey season, in a joint venture with the Los Angeles Kings pro hockey franchise and BluEco Technology Group. BluEco says its signature product, the Liquid Crystalline Turbex (LCT) system, can make venues more comfortable while sourcing water for ice rinks.
The system creates pure water by sucking humidity out of the ambient air, but it does not operate like a conventional air conditioner: LCT deploys water-attracting properties widely recognized in salt.
The challenge is to find an energy-efficient, economical way to extract water from the air. BluEco has added a number of innovative, proprietary engineering tweaks to accomplish that. Its environmental air-flow management system works at the molecular level to produce high-quality water while cleansing the air from particulates, allowing for significant energy savings.
BluEco originally designed the system as an outdoor setup, for use in disaster relief and other emergency operations. AEG recognized that the technology could help trim the carbon footprint of an indoor sports venue situated in a warm climate like Los Angeles by providing an energy-efficient way to reduce indoor humidity.
The hockey connection comes in on the water end. Hockey ice sheets use copious amounts of water, and the water must be clean and of high quality to avoid inconsistencies in the ice. During its inaugural 2017-2018 hockey season, BlueEco estimates that the system saved hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for the LA Kings. In water-stressed cities like Los Angeles, that’s worth writing home about.
The challenge for BluEco was to demonstrate that it could develop an LCT arrangement that could function on a large scale, indoors instead of outdoors.
So far, it seems to be an overwhelming success. In a recent interview with 3BL Media, BlueEco CEO Scott Morris described how the system complements the existing air-conditioning equipment at Staples Center. “By putting this technology on the inside of a building, by stripping the moisture out, you're lowering the humidity level,” Morris explained. “Therefore, your air-conditioner systems won't have to work as hard. They become much more efficient as well, because we essentially take that load off the current HVAC system.”
AEG was able to take one of the three enormous chillers at Staples Center offline after installing the LCT system. “The results have been absolutely phenomenal. Quite frankly, much bigger than we even anticipated,” Morris said. “At Staples, we're looking at an energy reduction for them on a yearly basis [of] about 8.2 million kilowatt hours, which equates to about 8,200 metric tons as far as lowering your carbon footprint goes.”
Morris noted that the success at Staples Center could open up new opportunities to deploy the technology in a wide range of uses, from individual households to larger facilities like data centers, warehouses, laboratories and golf courses.
AEG appears to be one step ahead. Kelly Cheeseman, COO of the LA Kings and AEG Sports, notes that the LCT system fits into “the core of what our sustainability goals are, which is about reducing the overall carbon emissions for AEG.”
The company is already speaking with other teams in the National Hockey League, scouting for opportunities for similar installations that combine energy-efficient climate control with water supply.
Aside from taking on the energy-water nexus, the big sell is the bottom line. “The cost for kilowatt hours are different in every market,” Cheeseman explained. “But alone in LA, a seven-figure savings could be realized if we use the system to its full capabilities.”
The Staples Center participates in AEG’s 1Earth program for sharing environmental best practices among the company’s global fleet of arenas, convention centers and stadiums—offering a platform for successful pilots like the LCT system to roll out worldwide.
Daryl Evans enjoyed a successful career with the LA Kings before switching over to become the team’s on-air analyst for the iHeart Radio Kings Audio Network. That experience gives him an insider’s view on the potential for ice hockey to grow globally as an indoor sport. From his perspective, the sustainability aspect of BluEco’s LCT dovetails with the drive to provide both players and fans with a premium experience.
The purity of the water from the LCT system brings the quality of the skating surface closer to natural ice, "almost like skating outdoors on the East Coast in the middle of winter,” Evans said. “It's got a little bit more crispness to it, which makes it a little bit faster. The puck slides more freely. The players' skates glide more freely upon it. When you can enhance all those little individual aspects of the game, it increases the pace and makes for a more entertaining game.”
For Evans, it all comes down to increasing the number of ice surfaces available for games and bringing more young people into the sport. In a warming world, that may not happen outdoors. Evans already sees the writing on the wall. Hockey has to go indoors, and technology will make all the difference: “We don't have the consistency in our weather,” he said. “Whatever we do through science and technology, I think we can make it consistent. I think that's the big thing.”
Hockey is not the only sport taking steps to adapt to a changing climate. In the U.S., major sports circuits have been early adopters of clean tech that yields bottom-line benefits, along with improved sustainability. Standout examples include NASCAR, NFL teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, and all 30 Major League Baseball franchises.
Image credits: Staples Center/Facebook
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.