There is perhaps no single sporting event in the United States that casts more of a spotlight on corporate America than the Super Bowl, the annual contest that pits marketing and advertising firms against one another and coincidentally involves a championship professional football game.
The morning after viewers will talk about who won and lost the game -- in this year's case either the New England Patriots or Los Angeles Rams - the memorable plays and the blown calls of the refs, but what they'll discuss and continue to debate for days, is the advertisements and messages relayed to them during the commercial breaks.
As a result, over the past 53 years those with something to say or sell to the American people have paid handsomely to do so during the big game. According to Ad Age magazine, between 1967, when the first Super Bowl was played and last year's contest, businesses plunked down a total $5.4 billion to be seen and heard during the mid-winter classic.
In 2018, NBC, which broadcast Super Bowl LII, secured $482 million in commercials in the game and in pre- and post-game coverage, according to Variety.
This year CBS Sports, which is presenting Super Bowl LIII, expects to average more than $5 million for a 30-second spot, including one, from Anheuser-Busch, that will prominently display wind turbines as an important motif.
But the maker of Budweiser beer hasn't been content to end its promotion of sustainability and renewable energy. In fact, late last week it announced that in partnership with Enel Green Power, it is supplying the City of Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, with renewable energy attributes to power the equivalent of the city’s energy consumption for six days, including during the Super Bowl itself.
The offset stems from a power purchase agreement signed by Anheuser-Busch in 2017, in which committed to buying the energy delivered to the grid -- and the renewable electricity credits -- from Enel Green Power's 152.5 MW Thunder Ranch wind project in Oklahoma.
The renewable electricity purchased is the equivalent energy used to brew more than 20 billion 12 oz. servings of beer each year and is capable of meeting up to 50 percent of Anheuser-Busch’s total annual purchased electricity.
To get the lowdown on the partnership and what the companies are doing at this year's Super Bowl, Renewable Energy Magazine spoke to Mark McGrail, associate vice president for energy management at Enel Green Power North America, from his office just north of Boston, Massachusetts.
REM: Your partnership with Anheuser-Busch and Atlanta’s Super Bowl Host Committee is exciting given that it's taking place against the backdrop of one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Did you have an inkling that anything like this would come to pass when you developed the Thunder Ranch wind farm in Oklahoma a few years ago?
Mark McGrail: Honestly, when we began the project in Oklahoma, we did not envision a deal with either Anheuser-Busch or the City of Atlanta. That said, kudos to Anheuser-Busch for making a real effort to focus on sustainability -- a commitment, on their part, that really goes back years. So this is really a continuation of that. First, they committed to purchasing some of the energy from the Thunder Ranch project, and now they are sharing it, via Renewable Energy attributes, with the City of Atlanta. Not only is that an example of good corporate citizenship, but it puts a spotlight on their commitment both to sustainability and the renewable energy sector.
REM: So how does a partnership like this really work, and what are the steps that have to be taken to bring it to fruition?
Mark McGrail: Well, I think first, the average reader of this interview needs to understand that what we're talking about here is not a matter of our directly delivering energy from our project in Oklahoma to Atlanta. The energy we produce gets delivered to the grid, where it is combined with energy from several other sources before it ultimately flows into a home or an apartment or a business. What's happening here is that Anheuser-Busch is using some of the renewable energy credits associated with purchasing our green energy and using them to offset the city's consumption from other energy sources. Renewable energy credits are an instrument that represents the environmental attributes of renewable power generation, and it's through contracts with companies like Anheuser-Busch that we ensure that more green energy is going to the grid.
REM: It's easy to see how a company like Anheuser-Busch benefits from something like this, both in terms of reaching its own sustainability goals and in terms of good public relations. How does your affiliation with something like the Super Bowl benefit Enel Green Power and, more broadly, the cause of renewable energy generation?
Mark McGrail: Companies are turning to renewable energy for a variety of reasons. A company like Anheuser-Busch is focusing on reducing its impacts on the environment. At the same time, they want to focus on their sustainability message and demonstrate that they have a commitment to sustainability. This sends an important message to other companies that we can work in partnership with them on something similar. Just because we went out and customized this particular product for Anheuser-Busch doesn't mean we can't scale a project to meet their needs.
In other words, this partnership demonstrates what we can do ... and it begins conversations in which we can explain that other companies can do similar things on a scale that they are comfortable with and that meets their needs. Enel is a large European utility, and that gives us a unique ability to scale this type of solution for others. Here at Enel, we want to work with companies looking to improve their sustainability and adopt green energy. And there are a lot of factors that are moving companies in this direction.
One, as we've already talked about, is a desire to be more sustainable and reduce impacts on the environment. Other companies are embracing green energy because their customers are asking for it. Still others are responding to calls from their corporate boards to be more green and sustainable. Ultimately, of course, as with anything, it comes down to dollars and cents and today being green and sustainable makes good economic sense.
REM: And an event like this, I imagine, given the number of blocks of tickets that go to business entities, really is a great opportunity to talk about these things on a business-to-business level?
Mark McGrail: Absolutely. It's a great opportunity. And this is where I think a lot of the advertising and the media coverage around the event helps the renewables sector as a whole. I mean, we're already seeing coverage that emphasizes that we have a great partnership with Anheuser-Busch and that, with their Budweiser brand, they have an ability to impact and reach so many people. More than 100 million people on Super Bowl Sunday are going to see an Anheuser-Busch advertisement highlighting their embrace of wind energy ... and that's just fantastic. And this is just the beginning of our long-term relationship with Anheuser-Busch. It's going to go on for at least another 15 years if not longer, and it's really a great way to reach a lot of people and get them to think about sustainability and renewable energy.
REM: In terms of the wind industry as a whole, there is a lot of talk these days about challenges and concerns confronting the industry. One is that a supply chain crunch is developing. Another, somewhat related issue is the approaching end of the production tax credit. Do you think your involvement in an event like the Super Bowl helps put the sector front-of-mind with regulators?
Mark McGrail: Well, as I said, I think our involvement with Anheuser-Busch is going to stimulate a lot of conversation among businesses and investors, who are going to be looking at renewables and sustainability from an economic perspective. Will it help us on the regulatory side? I think unfortunately for wind we've exhausted all the regulatory solutions at this stage. I don't know that we're going to see a renewal of the production tax credit. There might be other things that happen to incentivize wind and renewables, but we as an organization don’t see the PTC coming back. We don't think we should be relying on that for our future business.
REM: So, from your perspective, how is the wind energy sector doing in the United States?
Mark McGrail: I still think the wind energy business is robust. It's extremely competitive right now. We're all trying to capture the value of the PTC, which as you know is in the ramp down phase. But I think that translates into value for the customer, whether it is an Anheuser-Busch or Google or T-Mobile or any of the other customers we work with. Everything that's going on with the winding down of the production tax credit and the competitiveness within the wind industry makes it easier for these big companies to make the decision to embrace renewable energy.
REM: With your partnership with Anheuser-Busch we've been talking about onshore wind. What's Enel's position on offshore wind development here in the US?
Mark McGrail: At this time we are not looking at offshore wind resources. We are currently still focused on the onshore ... and we're diversifying. One way we are diversifying is by expanding both our wind and solar portfolios, geographically. To date we've been focusing our efforts on Kansas and Oklahoma, but now we are expanding into other regions, like Texas and Nebraska and Illinois. So we're slowly expanding our footprint into other areas of the country. The other way we are diversifying is by investing in additional technologies. .... you might have seen that last year we acquired Boston-based EnerNOC, which we see as a key element in diversifying our capabilities in areas like electric mobility, vehicle-to-grid projects, recharging infrastructure, and battery storage. So that's where our focus is right now.
REM: What's driving the geographic expansion of your onshore wind activities?
Mark McGrail: It's really being driven by our customers. We're trying to meet their needs. Data centers don't just happen magically in one area of the country. For security and diversification purposes, they are moving these data centers all over. So you have companies like Google, Adobe, Facebook that are looking for renewable energy in these different areas of the country and they need to utilize whatever resources are available. And I might add that, at the end of the day, the solution you arrive at for these customers isn't just wind or solar or something else. You don't want to rely on a single technology, so that's a driver of diversifying one's expertise as well.
REM: Living in South Carolina, as I do, I know one issue that needs to be considered during one of these expansions is grid connectivity ... you know, where the infrastructure is. Are you satisfied with the opportunities for connectivity that you're finding out there?
Mark McGrail: That is one of the big topics within the industry. ... that we would have potentially more renewables and that we would be able to meet more needs with wind and solar ... it's just that the transmission grid is not built out enough right now to support the transmission of it. I think it is a challenge. You want to make sure, when you site a project, that you have a robust enough transmission grid to connect to ... you want to be close to loads ... and you want to, of course, build your renewable energy projects in areas where they won't potentially cause harm. So when we look at a project, we try to look at it from a perspective of, where is this going to be a win-win for both the customers and the resources? We're always striving for a blend of the two. And in that context, it would be great if [the government] would incentivize new projects to strengthen the electric grid.
REM: You mentioned the diversification Enel has undertaken in recent years, and one aspect of that effort is to grow your activities in energy storage. Do you see energy storage as one of the hot new areas in the renewables sector?
Mark McGrail: Battery storage definitely does seem to be one of the hottest areas that the market is expanding into right now. And I think it's an area that is right in line with what we were just talking about ... storage solutions help to manage the grid. What we don't want to be doing is adding a lot of resources in a specific area where they can't be used. That's where you come into the limits of the transmission grid. So being able to store the energy until it is actually needed may potentially help the reliability of the grid and that's really where the focus is ... it's not about building a wind facility or a solar facility with the expectation of pushing all the energy it produces onto the grid immediately. It's about potentially holding some back for when the energy is really needed.
REM: Okay, so now the big questions: Who's going to win the Super Bowl on Sunday? And do you think, if the New England Patriots win, that Tom Brandy and coach Bill Belichick will retire?
Mark McGrail: I am hoping the Patriots can pull this one off. I think it's going to be a great game. I think the Rams are going to be a tough team to beat. But I have faith in Brady and Belichick and the rest of the team to get the job done.
REM: And the possibility that this is the end of an era if they win?
Mark McGrail: A lot of the news articles we're seeing up here in New England say there is no way Brady is going to retire after this one. So I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'd like to see him go out on top, but he's definitely still competing at a very high level and I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again.
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