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Positively charged

by Saul Leese

EN investigates alernative power and who or what is stopping the industry from making the switch.

After listening to growing concern throughout the industry about electrical charges at shows, EN has decided to address the elephant in the room and discuss a possible solution; battery powered stands.

On investigation the idea of a stand powered exclusively by a portable power-pack has been kicked around the industry for some time now. If you’re an organiser, you’ll be well aware of the cries coming from small to medium-scale exhibitors, hit hard by extortionate and in some cases, growing electrical charges. No doubt the majority of organisers feel somewhat helpless when it comes to protecting their customers’ from an array of charges they face after signing a contract with them. 

Where the story becomes interesting is that there is currently no legislation prohibiting the use of battery packs at B2B events. However, the Association of Event Venues (AEV) has produced the eGuide; a widely known and extensive ‘rule book’ adopted by venues. Pg56/57 of the 156pg guide, tackles battery usage at events, but I can’t help feeling that this section was written some years ago, and mainly for another industry in another place and time. The eGuide does prohibit the use of battery packs for lighting, unless it ‘forms part of a self-contained lamp unit’. 

Robert Cohen, VP of US based Display Supply & Lighting is part of a growing trend of exhibitors, turning their backs on electrical charges and doing it themselves. He said: “We ran our entire 10’ x 20’ booth off of battery power at Exhibitor Show 2019.  We did not have any issues with the operation of our booth.  Things ran flawlessly, and as planned we did not recharge any batteries during the course of the show.  The electrical contractor was a bit puzzled as to how we were providing power, but once we explained the technology and our set up they did not have any problems.  The use of batteries is controlled by show halls and venues – not the electrical contractors.”

Cohen explains his business has been inundated with companies looking to replicate his model at other events across the US.

Vice Chair of Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) and MD of EventShaper Lou Kiwanuka is leading the charge on alternative power. She said “We are facing a ‘Kodak moment’, and not the photo kind, but instead the kind where technology is moving at a swift pace and if we don’t start to think differently about the potential that renewable energy brings to our industry, we will be left behind. With every challenge comes an opportunity for innovation and development. We have huge talent in our industry – we just need some brave souls to start the wheels in motion.

Kiwanuka has thrown down the gauntlet to companies with stakes in charging for electricity, she adds: “There are parts of our industry that might suffer from a shift in the commercial balance, if they do take advantage of being part of the solution. Our trade associations are at the heart of those conversations and are keen to embrace the ideas that are currently on the table. All it will take though, is for one company to find the niche route to making this work – that will be the game changer. It will be interesting to see who comes to the fore.”

AEV Director Rachel Parker recognises the growing demand and importance of using portable power-packs, and that the battery section of the eGuide is out-of-date. She said: “Our working groups – specifically the cross-association Health & Safety Group, the Technical Electrics Group and the technology groups – have explored this topic for some time, inviting experts on alternative power to speak at their meetings. From these discussions, and discussions at the AEV board, it’s clear that any changes will need to be managed by member venues individually – and our aim, as always, is to provide our members with the most up-to-date and detailed advice and recommendations.

It’s important to remember that whilst much of the discussion revolves around the deployment of Lithium Ion and other high-efficiency battery power sources, alternative power encompasses a whole slew of new technologies that, whilst not making much visible impact at this moment, will also be a large part of the future of events and venue. Our responsibility is to ensure our members are ready to face longer-term technological change, on a sustainable and environmentally sound footing, as well as informed and equipped to deal with the exigent issues of the day.”

Abigail Quesnel, senior operations manager at Clarion believes battery packs could be a good solution for events that rely heavily on smaller stands: “Battery powered stands are an interesting concept and for shows which are heavy on shell scheme could be a reasonably priced option for small exhibitors who find the increasing cost of electrics prohibitive in exhibiting.”

AEO CEO Chris Skeith mirrors Clarion’s concerns, explaining that organisers and venues need to come together to address a sensible alternative solution to power. He said: “wThe general cost of exhibiting, and electrics in particular, are major concerns for some exhibitors and if we are able to reduce costs and improve service delivery it will help us not only retain exhibitors, but also help attract new exhibitors to shows with a more cost effective entry point.  

“Applying battery technology to wider electrical installations is not only inevitable it is essential as it promises a faster, yet more economical set up. Whilst it may be some time before this can be applied cost effectively to higher power installations such as machinery and catering, for lower power installations, such as shell scheme stands with LED lighting and screens, we have the opportunity to lead by example, define what is safe, and let our exhibitors reap the rewards.” Media 10 marketing director Rob Nathan believes exhibitors should be entitled to choose: “The issue surrounding electrical charges at venues has been around since I was still at exhibition nursery. It won’t go away until something changes; the charges often get taken for granted, but in isolation it is often a significant burden for exhibitors and one which impacts on their overall experience of an event. As we move more and more towards sustainable events, it seems crazy that exhibitors can’t make their own (greener, cheaper) arrangements and all parties need to come together to resolve the problem. Or it will never go away.” AEV, ESSA, AEO  and key venues have all pledged to keep alternative power at the top of their agenda and work more closely to ensure the technology is thoroughly explored. EN will revisit this story in the coming months to see what action has been taken to move it on.

This article was the cover feature for the latest issue of EN. To read more features like this, subscribe to the magazine here.

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