Solar Accelerates at NASCAR
Can solar energy and NASCAR embed sustainability in the minds of sports enthusiasts and hard-working families who just want a day of fun and affordable entertainment? It’s happening at Sonoma’s Infineon Racetrack, and needs to scale elsewhere. Sheep graze and together work as a natural lawn mower. Vineyards ramble across the nearby hillsides. Solar panels greedily absorb sunlight. But this is not some off-the-grid hippie commune, but the Infineon (formerly Sears Point) NASCAR race track in Sonoma, CA, off of Highway 37. I spent most of the day at my first ever NASCAR event. I mentioned in another article that NASCAR and clean energy are not necessarily and intuitive pair, but for Panasonic and NASCAR, the marriage works. Almost 1700 Sanyo solar panels, supplied by Panasonic, provide 353 megawatts of power for the Infineon complex, providing the facility over 40 percent of its electricity needs. Panels loom above the grandstand, slather other buildings including the paddock and administrative offices, and even power an LED lighting display that greets travelers and commuters along Highway 37. For Panasonic, the Infineon solar project is one step in the company’s agenda to become the top innovative and green company by 2018, its 100th year in business. For NASCAR the panels are an opportunity to reduce energy costs at a facility that is in use 340 days a year. Even more important is another message: clean energy technologies like solar are not just an elitist luxury, but are necessary and can add to the experience of everyday life. Most sporting events are too expensive for families’ budgets, but NASCAR still provides a relatively affordable day of sports and entertainment for a crowd that just wants to have a day at the races. For solar panels and “green” technology to be embedded in Infineon’s daily operations is a big step in introducing the future to the masses--and many of these folks are focused on just getting by financially month to month or even week to week. The convergence, quite bluntly, between high tech and VROOM VROOM is genius. The success of the Panasonic-NASCAR partnership offers other exciting possibilities. On one hand, electric motorcycles and cars hold little appeal to a crowd that wants to hear the powerful engines roar and watch their favorite race car drivers dart across the tracks. But electric vehicles boast one advantage, torque, and hence NASCAR has an opportunity to open a new market and series events, and perhaps, a new crowd of fans. The trick for Panasonic, NASCAR, and companies who want to enter this space is to emphasize performance. If battery technology, clean energy, biofuels, and even biolubricants can prove to be not only safer but perform even better, everyone from drivers to pit crews to spectators will buy in. As Infineon’s Steve Page said, the lesson learned here is that consumers can “buy a sustainable product and not feel you have to compromise performance.” If perceptions of greener products are overcome, the “green economy” we’ve all been talking about may actually happen. I will share more later, including an interview with James Doyle of Panasonic.