Super Bowl power outage sheds light on smart grid

When the lights flicked off at Super Bowl XLVII, the vibrant energy of the whole event screeched to a halt. Fans and players waited in confused suspense through a 34-minute delay, sparking a flurry of conversation about what happened (including many Twitter jokes about Beyonce’s performance).

The official line of energy provider Entergy New Orleans was that their equipment had “sensed an abnormality in the system,” and they will “continue to investigate the root cause” of the outage. In other words, they’re not sure either.

This high-profile "oops" hints at a bigger problem across America’s electrical grid. Much of the equipment is old and wasn’t designed for the way it’s used today. The American Society of Civil Engineers claims the country will need to invest $673 billion dollars by 2020 to avoid breakdown. That’s a lot of cash, and the current financial paralysis in Washington doesn't bode well for that kind of expenditure.

Future Super Bowl managers seeking to avoid embarrassment in front of 111 million football fans may investigate lower-cost tech options made possible by startup companies working on futuristic smart grid technology. Radically improved connectivity and control between energy generation and deployment could avoid these kinds of mix-ups.

Smart grid management was key to the success of 2011’s Orange Bowl, where a Department of Energy project turned an overloading transformer into a non-issue. The government-backed solution wouldn’t work everywhere, so energy managers will likely turn increasingly toward private sector innovations to help them circumvent another #superbowlblackout.

While we're unaware of any startups targeting sports arenas in particular (opportunity, people!), other smart grid start-ups are poised to stop these kinds of outages - while generating real returns for their customers 24/7. There are quite a few in the market, so let’s take a closer look at two particularly promising ideas.

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