The London Olympics Committee pledged to host “the greenest Olympics ever” but with the event now underway its environmental goals and energy consumption are being tightly scrutinized. The Games has always been an unrivaled catalyst for change and one of London’s legacy promises is for the Olympic Park to be ‘a blueprint for sustainable living’. With the £9.3 billion spending on long-term infrastructure, this has been a huge opportunity to build skills in delivering sustainable goods and services in the local market.
However, as the opening of the Games edged closer, watchdog Commission for Sustainable London revealed that the Olympic Delivery Authority is only prepared to have about nine percent of renewable energy generated from solar panels and biofuels in the energy mix. This is a far-cry from the 20% renewable energy targets stated in the original bid document and dwarfed by renewable energy efforts from previous Olympic organizing bodies.
In Beijing four years ago Suntech supplied a 130KW solar energy system for the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium, the main arena for the 2008 Olympic Games. Installed at the building’s 12 entrances, the world-class solar energy system provided power for the opening and closing ceremonies, not to mention dozens of sporting events, to over 91,000 spectators. The installation helped to make the stadium one of the world’s most environmentally friendly sporting arenas.
A similar system was installed in Beijing’s Olympic Village to power streetlights and to provide hot water for athletes. The thermal collection system provided hot water to 200 people a day, at an average volume of 50 liters per person. In total, an estimated 25 percent of all power for Olympic venues came from alternative energy sources.
Despite mixed progress in utilizing renewable energy at the stadiums, London is home to a gamut of green initiatives to echo the sustainable objectives set forth by the Olympics Committee. Notably, the city is currently planning to build the biggest solar bridge in the world – the Blackfriars railway bridge. Built in 1886 and spanning the River Thames, the bridge will host the largest solar array in London and become the largest “solar bridge” in the world. As home to the new Blackfriars station, which is currently being upgraded to take more passengers, it will sport about 4,400 photovoltaic panels and will produce an estimated 900,000kWh of electricity every year. This will account for nearly 50% of the energy needed to power Blackfriars station.
The legacies the Games leave behind to the host nations are often best assessed in hindsight, and the issues that have limited London from fulfilling its sustainability objectives point to the need for long-term planning to back up the original vision. But in building environmental initiatives into cornerstone projects like the Olympics or Blackfriars Bridge, the UK government is showing the continued importance of renewable energy in any large-scale redevelopment.
As the solar industry emerges into a second wave of development, Suntech is optimistic that governments can still take an active role in inspiring others to support a more sustainable future.