ENERGY STORAGE

How Arsenal FC used storage to become sustainability champions

A battery energy storage system at The Emirates stadium helped Arsenal top a Premier League ‘green’ ranking – other football clubs could now replicate the North London side’s approach to sustainability

BEN COOK

September 15, 2023

  • Arsenal’s 2.5MW BESS helped club top Premier League stadium ‘green’ ranking
  • Emirates stadium battery installed in partnership with Pivot Power and Downing LLP
  • League One Oxford United considering replicating scheme at planned new stadium

Though Arsenal lost out to Manchester City in the battle for Premier League supremacy in 2022-23, the North London club did win one title last season when its home ground, The Emirates, was named the greenest Premier League stadium. A ranking published earlier this year by business energy technology consultants Bionic put Arsenal’s stadium in first place, ahead of Brighton & Hove Albion’s AMEX stadium in second position, with West Ham United’s Olympic Stadium, Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in joint third spot.

Arsenal’s home was commended for obtaining all of its energy from renewable sources, and being easily and primarily accessible by public transport, thus keeping carbon emissions associated with travel to a minimum. However, key to Arsenal’s title win, according to Bionic, was the 2018 installation of a 2.5MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) in an attempt to cut emissions and lower the cost of energy bills.

Source: Bionic (www.bionic.co.uk)

The installation of a battery storage system at its stadium made Arsenal the first UK football club to take such a step. So what was the story behind the move?

The battery storage system at The Emirates was particularly pioneering as it was not only the first such installation at a UK football ground, but also the first at any UK sporting venue. It had been planned for a number of years, with the official launch being the culmination of three years of development involving Arsenal FC, battery developer Pivot Power and investment manager Downing LLP, so the germ of the idea can be traced back to 2015. Under the terms of the deal for the Emirates project, the batteries were funded by Downing LLP and operated by Pivot Power – Arsenal leased the required site for the battery to Pivot Power.

In addition to reducing emissions and cutting energy bills, the battery also resulted in a firm frequency response contract between Arsenal and the National Grid, under the terms of which Arsenal provides a service whereby the battery may reduce demand or increase generation, when instructed by the National Grid. The battery at The Emirates can power the 60,000 seat stadium for an entire match, which is equivalent to supplying energy to 2,700 homes for two hours.

Arsenal battery raised concerns

It should be said that not all of Arsenal’s stakeholders fully bought into the battery project from the outset. The risks and liabilities associated with installing a battery at a football stadium are understood to have raised significant concerns. The battery system used at the Emirates is a lithium-ion model manufactured by Tesla, a company that has experienced its fair share of bad publicity due to battery fires. However, sceptics were successfully persuaded to embrace the proposal as they became convinced that any risks were “offset by the opportunity the project provided to pioneer new technology and enter a new market, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and cutting electricity costs.”

Among the advantages for Arsenal of installing the battery is that the club can minimise its exposure to peak energy prices by purchasing power from the renewable energy supplier Octopus Energy when prices are low and stockpiling it for use at times when prices are high. The club is also able to avoid paying National Grid triad charges, that is higher prices charged for use of electricity by commercial entities in peak demand periods during the winter.  Income from the battery storage system is split between Pivot Power, Downing LLP and Arsenal FC.

Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium includes a 2.5MWh battery storage system, which was installed in 2018

Despite the key role battery storage has played in rocketing Arsenal’s stadium to the top of the sustainability rankings, no other UK football club has yet taken the step of installing similar systems at their grounds. In an effort to keep up with their North London rivals, fellow Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur announced back in 2021 that, in partnership with battery technology company VivoPower it had “completed feasibility studies to assess initial opportunities for sustainable energy solutions at both Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the club’s Hotspur Way Training Centre in Enfield”. At the time, the club said it would be moving on to explore the potential for the implementation of one or more sustainable energy projects, but progress appears to have been limited since then.

Going Dutch

Ajax’s Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam is home to a 2.8MWh energy storage system consisting of Nissan battery modules

Elsewhere in Europe, in 2018, arguably the Netherlands’ most famous football club, Ajax, installed a 3MW/2.8MWh energy storage system at its stadium, the Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam. The battery – comprising 250 second life battery packs with 340 first life battery modules from Nissan, controlled by four bi-directional inverters from Eaton – is powered by 1MWp of solar panels on the roof of the stadium. The club also formed a company, Amsterdam Energy ArenA BV, through which it trades the battery’s available storage capacity.

Oxford inspired?

Oxford United’s plans for a new stadium could include a battery storage system inspired by Arsenal’s Emirates stadium

There are signs that other UK football clubs could follow Arsenal’s lead and install in-stadium battery storage systems. For example, Oxford United, which plays in League One of the English Football League – the country’s third tier – has plans for a new stadium at Stratfield Brake, which includes proposals for “reliable and cost-effective energy solutions to ensure continuous energy supply and enabling energy sharing across the site and beyond”. With this in mind, Oxford United has stated that “case studies to inspire include Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium battery storage set-up”.

UK football clubs, particularly those in the mega-rich Premier League, are certainly under growing pressure to increasingly take steps to become more sustainable. Earlier this year, brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance’s Football Sustainability Index 2023 highlighted how Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’s partnership with battery technology company VivoPower demonstrated how football clubs are “increasingly under pressure to demonstrate positive action in relation to the environment and climate change”. With football clubs looking to clean up their image from a sustainability perspective, the installation of energy storage systems could provide a much-needed solution. As Bionic highlighted in its Premier League stadium ranking, such steps could also act as inspiration for many other small businesses that are seeking to become more “climate considerate”.

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