Zoom-in
Edit 25 November 2022
by Javier Leiva, UIA Expert

AirQon Zoom-in 3: The challenge of powering greener events

(Source: facebook.com/bredabarst)
Zoom-in #3: The challenge of powering greener events
Breda Barst is an extraordinary example of innovative spirit, sustainable commitment, and collaborative approach. Just as AirQon is! But, why is Breda Barst such an interesting model?

This festival brings days full of music in Valkenberg, the Breda city central park. In 2022, it has been its 25th edition! It is an awesome mix of regional and local talent and established artists. Hence, the kind of music is more alternative than in larger events within the Netherlands, which are more mainstream.

At Breda Barst you will also find theatre, a varied range of food, a lively market and even activities for children. The festival aims to be organized in an ecologically responsible style by working on these four main pillars:

  • Emissions:

Every year they try to improve themselves going one step further. In particular, they completely adjusted their power plan by 2015. They now use green energy as much as possible and install far fewer diesel generators. Thanks to this, they need less fossil fuels, and therefore, produce less direct CO2 emissions.

  • Recycling:

On the 2022 edition, they implemented for the first time a recycling system for the cups. They also gave the waste separately to the waste processor, and they used recycled materials as much as possible in, for example, printed matter and crew shirts.

  • Caterers:

They work closely to their caterer partners to promote a wider offer of organic products and keep food stocks to a minimum. And what is left, is offered to the local food bank.

  • Transportation:

Breda Barst promotes public transport in their communication with the public. They even also offer bicycle parking premises in the event.

The festival is made possible with the help of a large group of volunteers. More than 250 people: from bartenders to festival coordinators, from stage staff to the chairman. They all contribute to Breda Barst because they want to be part of the coolest festival in the city and to ensure that everyone has a good time. They are a community that also ‘powers’ the event and, definitively, make it happen! And, actually, Breda Barst is one of the partners that make up AirQon, so they are not just another event.

Let’s zoom-in on all these inspiring aspects with the help of Anneke van Wieren, Breda Barst project leader, Remco Teunissen, technical manager from RTN Showsupport, and Tom Rozendal, AirQon project leader from Breda Municipality.

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Anneke van Wieren, Breda Barst project leader

Anneke van Wieren, Breda Barst project leader

Interview

What is your role in the festival, Anneke?

I am part of the Board, I am the Secretary, and also I am the Project Leader for sustainability in the Breda Barst festival. It is also nice for me to highlight that we all are volunteers in Breda Barst, so for everyone the entrance is for free. The work that we do at the festival is also for free.

Remco Teunissen, technical manager

Remco Teunissen, technical manager

Interview

What is your role in the festival?

I am the Technical Producer, so my job has mostly to do with anything technical to make the event possible. We can say that anything that has a plug is under my supervision; that means lighting, sound, rigging, getting stuff up in the air which need to be hung for decoration, or the building of the tents, to cite some examples. Together with my colleagues, I also care about planning the placement of all the tents, infrastructures, fencing, power and water resources. But also the works concerning the preparation of the site for being able to set up a festival there.

Anneke van Wieren: Breda Barst is a free pop festival celebrated during the third weekend of September for 25 years now. The entrance is for free so everyone can enjoy the music, the festival area and the festival venue, and we have a variety of music from electronic to metal, and almost every style in between. We also give a stage to future artists, at the ‘Future Stage’, as we call it. And there is a variety of artists from the Netherlands as well as surrounding countries like Germany and Belgium.

Tom Rozendal: The festival is oriented to all kinds of public, all kinds of families, and not only young people. It is a broad spectrum, that is the nice thing, apart from being a free festival. Everyone can enter and look if there is something for them to join and enjoy. It is for small children as well as for adults.

Remco Teunissen: Breda Barst in this last edition had four different stages. Firstly, the main stage, which was more focused on top-level, headliner artists. We also had the Future Stage, focused on local talent. In addition to this, the Suikerbeat, which is mainly electronic dance music. And finally, there is another stage for more metal and heavy rock base music. Besides those stages, and also because Breda Barst wants to be seen as a full family-on festival, as pointed by Tom, there is also the ‘Mini Barst’, which is not so much a stage, but it is an area especially designed for the younger kids. There they can dive into certain science projects, play around with building huts, and activities like that. Furthermore, they also have a half pipe where kids, or even adults, can do skateboarding. So, this event is extremely broad in comparison to the more commercial festivals, which mostly focus just on a certain music type being either EDM or rock or more mainstream pop.

(Source: Partyflock.nl)
(Source: Partyflock.nl)

 

Anneke van Wieren: Breda Barst started very small, in 1994, when we started to think about organizing something for the artists in the area. It was also a paid festival at that time, and it was not celebrated in the park but in a small area near the military barracks of Breda.

Anneke van Wieren: We wanted to give something to the public, being a host for upcoming artists and some local known artist as well from the region. Within three years, the number of attendants to the festival significantly grew, so we had to look for an alternative, bigger area, so we decided to go to the park where the venue is now, and it has been there since.

Anneke van Wieren: The number of stages in the festival gradually grew from one to five stages. But in 2016 we had a bummer with the weather that forced us to take out one stage due to financial reasons. We did not bring that fifth stage back in the following years because we found that having one stage less made the venue cozier for the people attending the festival. So, we finally decided to remain like this, apart from the financial gain that we get from building four stages instead of five. It must also be noted the fact that we want to get more people aware about the environment. This also reflects the evolution of Breda Barst. Especially considering that the event is held in an historical park, so we need to take care of it, of its grounds and plants, but also of the animals like birds and rabbits that live in there. We try to encourage the use of a bike instead of a car to come by. Apart from the parking problems that the latter has. And we also had a market for sustainable entrepreneurs from 2017, called Eco Barst.

Tom Rozendal: Yes; we wanted to give people direct evidence of the impact of plastic cups, plastic plates, and that kind of stuff that we use and normally throw away in a festival. To do so, we introduced a 3D printer to show what you can do with the equivalent amount of plastic of a cup, for instance. The printer was powered by taking out electricity from an electric vehicle thanks to an AirQon bidirectional charger, and turned all that into some nice presents like key rings. The goal of this was to make awareness in the attendees about the impact of a festival like this on the environment.

AirQon in operation with Nissan Leaf (left) and outdoor AirQon bidirectional charger (right) in Breda Barst 2022
AirQon in operation with Nissan Leaf (left) and outdoor AirQon bidirectional charger (right) in Breda Barst 2022

 

Remco Teunissen: On many occasions people say: “well, we have to go carbon neutral, we want to go green, we must be sustainable…”; but most of the time there is a lot of ‘green washing’ behind that. In our case, we had discussions and ideas on this, but carefully looking at the site where the event takes place, how the different stages are placed within the park... Having all that, could we go full on carbon neutral? Of course, anything is possible. But we must look at it from a pragmatic point of view, and we figured out that we could not go without any diesel generator, but we could make a very large step into that objective.

Remco Teunissen: In the conventional perception, a diesel generator will always run. You throw diesel in it, and that’s all. And the whole idea of using battery packs can be frightening because it is a very new technology, especially on these applications for powering events. But we have colleagues on board in AirQon which were very convincing in their arguments, and I've been ever since then. I've been a real advocate for going battery powered: even if you do not have a fixed grid power supply point to charge your batteries, you can work with much smaller generators –and therefore, much more efficient– to charge them and run the festival without diesel. So, for me, AirQon was a real eye-opener experience.

Remco Teunissen: The main thing here is that diesel generators are very good at supplying power, almost indefinitely. Unfortunately, to determine the size of the generator that you need for your event, you have to look at your peak power moment. And this determines how big your generator should be. But most of the time –I would say a 90% of the time– that big diesel generator will be idling, just waiting for that peak moment to happen, and such a big generator in those conditions is extremely inefficient. However, you can use a battery pack as an energy buffer which can wait for that peak demand and supply the power needed for it. This means that you can get along with much smaller generators, which would run more efficiently when they are charging these batteries.

(Source: facebook.com/bredabarst)
(Source: facebook.com/bredabarst)

 

Remco Teunissen: Actually, the whole Breda Barst site was divided into four power zones. Two of them, including the main stage –which is the core of the venue– plus the surrounding area, ran on fixed grid power supply with the support of a battery pack, in addition to a diesel generator as an emergency backup. In these two zones, both diesel generators remained in standby mode all the time. On the West side of the park, unfortunately, there was not a grid connection available, so there we had to use a diesel generator, but thanks to the application of another set of batteries that generator was much smaller than we would normally have used in that situation, and it only ran for a couple of hours per day in order to charge the battery pack.

Anneke van Wieren: The last, but not the least power zone, is powered by AirQon. On the one hand, providing energy to Eco Barst and also allowing attendees to charge their mobile phones, for free, with lockers in one of the stands. On the other hand, just outside the perimeter of the festival, there was an area where people could park their bicycles, so it was needed a system to scan the tickets, some lighting, perhaps a coffeemaker… To do so, we could get the power source next to where it was needed by parking an AirQon car plus a bidirectional charger next to their control cabin – besides greener, this solution is a lot smarter, because we did not have to install quite long cables to get power there.

Backup diesel generator (left) and battery pack (right) powering one of the areas of Breda Barst 2022
Backup diesel generator (left) and battery pack (right) powering one of the areas of Breda Barst 2022

 

Tom Rozendal: I think that the feeling is very good in the city. But hosting events or not, the number of attendees… these are open points for discussion that we always have. Our municipality really would like to have a lot of events, even more after COVID-19. This brings visitors to our city, promotes the growth of economic activities… so it is really a target for Breda to make events possible. Indeed, we see a high participation and interest from the citizens in any event where AirQon takes part as a green power source.

Tom Rozendal: We can see from the Breda digipanel -which consists of an online, voluntary survey sent to a sample of Breda citizens several times a year on different societal topics- that the main concern is about waste. That's the biggest issue for most of the people living in the city, in general, so it is not the use of diesel generators. But noise and emissions due to them may be a serious concern for the people who lives next to the venue. In the city downtown, the most annoying thing for them is not the music of the event, but the noise of the diesel generators when they are operating during the night and there is no event happening. This irritates them the most. Anyway, of course, everybody is happy when actions are taken to make cleaner the air in the city.

Remco Teunissen: One of my colleagues, during the event, made me this comment: “Have you noticed how silent it is? There is not that constant ‘humming’ coming from diesel generators. How lovely is this!“. Imagine the perception for those neighbors living around the site. The implementation of battery packs and the use of innovative solutions like AirQon are essential elements to get this.

Anneke van Wieren: In addition to all this, compared to other externalities such as the noise that you can hear, or the garbage that you can see, we are not so aware about pollution and air quality. It is invisible, we cannot get it into our hands. That is why we try to focus on awareness and engagement about it from Breda Barst.

Remco Teunissen: For instance, due to my work in events full time, I have been involved in events where we went completely in the other way: we looked at the amount of power available from the fixed grid power supply point, and we adjusted the power plan of the whole event without going over. There was a sort of strong commitment in not using generators there, apart from the fact that it was even restricted by the Municipality. Anyway, we are a small community, so you talk a lot with your colleagues; perhaps our habits, a previous bad experience where generators and battery packs were combined unsuccessfully… may lead us to trust traditionally only in a stable system, just in case whatever happens. But we need to rely on these new technologies, and, in the worst-case scenario, to put a generator next to the battery pack as a backup, for instance. Although in a festival like Breda Barst we didn't need them in two out of the four power zones! And other areas were perfectly powered with AirQon, as we explained before.

Remco Teunissen: Evidently, if we had skipped those two diesel generators, we would have been cheaper. But going further on this, in total in the whole festival we used about 500 liters of diesel, that is almost nothing. Moreover, due to the current prices of fuel, you can rent a lot of battery packs with an equivalent cost of a couple of hundred liters of diesel. Having this, and according to our estimations, I think we would have the same costs if we discarded the use of backup diesel generators and rely only on fixed power grid and battery packs as main power sources for the event. So, yes, in short, you can go green, but also you are able to save money with these new models, even more if battery technologies continue evolving and getting cheaper.

Tom Rozendal: I think that the most challenging thing is to break the wall: we need the people to believe that this works. With AirQon, we have been demonstrating this in events of all kinds and sizes. Breda Barst also proves it. For sure, the cost is always an issue, so when we talk about equivalent or even cheaper powering alternatives, then it will be more attractive, definitively.

Tom Rozendal: At this moment, at least from our side, our city council is not that far to set restrictions in order to directly force that diesel generators will not be used anymore in events.

Anneke van Wieren: Indeed, we commented that diesel generators can remain just for redundancy, backup or emergency. But going further, we must also keep an eye on transport, having that, for instance, diesel trucks are normally used for event logistics, moving diesel generators from one venue to another… So we have to think about emissions due to events in a broader way.

Remco Teunissen: Transport companies targeted solely on the entertainment market, supporting tours for top-level artists, are investing a lot in switching to electric their smaller vehicles. For instance, those used for getting a band and their more precious instruments just to the backstage. And these electric vehicles are then combined with other fossil-based ones to cover high distances and to move heavy loads, although they are also now starting to invest in electric trucks as well. Furthermore, there are also disruptive technologies just around the corner, such as hydrogen-based generators, which will be much cleaner, but with strong safety implications that eventually may lead to restrictions from fire departments for their use in public spaces.

Tom Rozendal: Safety is an important issue in events. Fire departments usually warned about the use of electric cars as power sources, like we do with AirQon, in the same way that they do for fire risks related to battery packs. But these issues are finally solved as the development of these technologies goes forward and become widespread. We can't stop it.

Anneke van Wieren: For the technical aspects, we have the support of Remco, who is widely experienced in production world, for our CO2 neutral energy strategy. Having this help, as event organizers, the only things that are complex for us are making sure that we get everything ready in the right place for the success of the event, managing permits for the festival, complying with health and safety requirements… So, frankly speaking, having a greener energy planning in our event is not making it more complex for us.

Remco Teunissen: In my opinion, if the use of diesel generators is restricted by legislation, that’s fine, but then the transition towards alternative power sources must be facilitated. I mean, in a park like where Breda Barst takes place, we need power. But how is that power getting there? We have to keep in mind that a battery pack is not a power source in essence, but it is a storage, so we need to get power in it. Consequently, for instance, the incentive can be oriented to encourage the use of fixed grid supply points, as we are used to do, but especially if diesel generators are not powering the event.

Tom Rozendal: Apart from restrictions by law and direct incentives, there are additional drivers that must be taken into account. For instance, the complaints of the neighbors living nearby, the perception of the attendees… Perhaps these are not the most important concerns, but I think it will help everyone –people in general and event organizers in particular– to convince to make decisions to go day by day for greener solutions.

Remco Teunissen: If you ask the public, they will say they want greener events, for sure. Also because it's a socially acceptable position. But if that implies that the cost of the tickets is 5 € higher, to cite an example, some people may be likely to change their opinion… Another strategy could be to compensate attendees in some way -for instance, with free tickets, backstage access, etc.- for their collaboration in AirQon with their electric cars, as it has been proposed in AirQon.

Anneke van Wieren: This Breda Barst was the first time we had a refundable plastic cup system, and it went on a very easy way with the crowd, despite they were not used to it. The idea is that you do not have to pay for the first plastic cup, but you get a coin that works as a deposit: if you give back your used plastic cup to the bar, you can get a new one. They received it just like that: “Oh, it's fine. But, what if I lose it? OK, I lose the deposit and I would pay for it. Understood.” So, they accepted it. Overall, the most remarkable aspect, that we sincerely did not expect, was the fact that when Breda Barst event ended, there were no plastic cups in the grass! But there were no plastic plates at all as well! There was much less waste –we normally used 50 people for two hours to clean the grass of the park at night and now we did not need to do it–, so it definitively helped to make our festival more sustainable, with everyone involved on it!

(Source: facebook.com/bredabarst)
(Source: facebook.com/bredabarst)

 

Anneke van Wieren: We are not only focused on power efficiency. We also want to look into our suppliers. For instance, how do they reach our venue? Do they need diesel trucks, diesel forklifts… to put all things in place? Is there any alternative? Moreover, if we think about caterers, how are they evolving in waste production? Can they lower it? Can they also do a refundable model with plates, for example? We want to work on how to lower the emissions, the environmental impact in general of the whole event. It might seem to be small steps, but we want to maintain the level reached so far, and take it to a higher level in the coming years.

Tom Rozendal: Regarding the future, there is a question for the people who lives in our cities, in general, not only in Breda: how much do they like to host events? That may be also an issue. Anyway, events bring life to the cities, visitors, investments, etc. In fact, some infrastructures that cities may provide to help events be greener, such as new, more capable fixed power supply points, can be also valid for powering other purposes like street markets or even electric mobility chargers. Despite these complementary applications could not be activated while events are in progress, the combination of different purposes may strongly contribute to make the necessary investments profitable.

Remco Teunissen: We should bear in mind that an event, by definition, is not green. It has an environmental impact. For instance, how is the people going there? Are they using public transport or private cars? And how was transported the necessary equipment to make the event happen? Everything has a footprint. But undoubtedly, events add attraction for cities, make people have fun… so it is positive for the society as a whole. Nevertheless, if we decide to go full on carbon free, the current state of the art of the required infrastructures and technologies are not there yet, but we made a huge step in reducing our carbon footprint on this festival.

The impressions of these extraordinary experts lead us to point out that having more sustainable events is feasible nowadays. The commitment is on minimizing the carbon footprint of events, as a whole, by adding positive contributions. When totally discarding the use of diesel generators is not possible, using them in a smarter way is a valid option; for instance, if there is not a fixed grid power supply point available and it is necessary to charge batteries, the use of smaller, well-sized diesel generators will fit the requirements. And if the use of diesel generators is restricted by law, greener alternatives must be incentivized. Nevertheless, the trends of fuel prices and storage technologies are accelerating the transition towards more sustainable power sources and electric means of transport, with the potential synergies that AirQon is able to establish between them.

Sustainability is a key driver in an event like Breda Barst, where AirQon formed part of the set of energy solutions implemented, contributing like any other mature power source with robustness, reliability and versatility. Furthermore, AirQon avoided technical losses that would come from long electricity lines if they were installed instead of this local power source. In addition to this, Breda Barst experienced a plastic reduction strategy with outstanding results, not only resulting in reducing the amount of plastic cups thrown away, but also other elements such as plastic plates, and also leading to an extraordinary level of cleanliness after the event in the park where the venue is hosted. Undoubtedly, this brings hope to future community engagement actions and crowd-structured solutions like AirQon. Moreover, planning events in a greener way is not bringing more complexity to organizers if that is done with the help of experienced partners. AirQon is a clear example of this.

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