Santa Barbara, CA- This year’s festival season kicked off with a flare of sol at Lucidity: Universe, the third chapter in an unfolding story of art, life, and community. Participants experienced countless examples of growth and evolution, including something with vast historic implications: a large main stage powered by the sun.
The Alive Stage at Lucidity, the main live music stage, ran for 40 hours over the course of three days, powered by a solar generator. Running a stage of this scale with renewable energy is almost unprecedented in North America. Most event producers have been slow to accept solar power as a viable resource, concerned with reliability, costs, and regulations. But Lucidity’s Sustainability Manager Alison Hensley saw the possibilities past the challenges. “I think it is so important to take whatever steps we can to start aligning with a vision that is as “green” as can be,“ she said.
The producers saw a solar powered stage as a chance to uphold their core values - an ethic of responsibility and sustainability, and an understanding of the bravery needed to find new solutions. This ethic puts a premium on clean, efficient, renewable energy, and weighs its perceived costs alongside resource realities. It provides a guiding light, a vision of an idea whose time has come. All they needed was the technology and experience to make the vision a reality.
Enter Jeff Murrell, owner of Focus Entertainment. In producing events over fifteen years, Murrell saw a crucial need for sustainability in the industry. Over an eight-year period he put in countless hours of testing and experimentation and over $100,000 in investments to develop a hybrid solar generator.
“This generator can track when the batteries reach half capacity and automatically switches to its back-up system for re-charging, which is driven by a vegetable oil fueled generator,“ said Jeff. By adding solar to the equation, emissions are reduced over 90%, as compared to a traditional diesel generator, which burns fuel constantly regardless of the actual power needs of the moment. Murrell’s generator runs only when necessary, and any energy left unused goes back into the solar batteries.
A traditional diesel generator would have burned at least 60 gallons of fuel over the course of the event. After nearly forty hours powering a full Funktion One sound system, Murrell’s system had burned a mere 7 gallons of locally sourced bio-diesel. Murrell stated that, “[the] goal is to replace one million diesel generators with renewable energy before I retire, and make this industry as clean and sustainable as possible.”
At the event site, the county inspector was quite impressed by the installation, another great precedent for the future of renewable energy in the festival market. Alive Stage Manager Michael Moon, who witnessed the operations firsthand over the course of the festival, was “proud to be taking part in the future of live sound, and was happy to see the system work seamlessly.” The high quality of the power, coming from the most reliable source that exists made a noted difference in the efficiency of the sound system.
Further advances and wider availability of solar technology, along with huge branding potential for forward thinking sponsors will lower prices and raise funding for other events. This suggests a cultural upswing in the acceptance of solar power, and creates opportunities for event producers, participants, and collaborators.
Understanding the challenges faced in spreading this vision, but knowing that the solutions are there, Lucidity’s Alternative Power Coordinator Traverse Hall reminds us of what is always the case with successful growth and change: “You have to want it.”