On September 29, Las Vegas witnessed a new type of spectacle as rock band U2 opened “Sphere,” a recently unveiled architectural and technological wonder that cost around $2.3 billion to build.
With almost 18,000 seats and over 160,000 speakers, Sphere — 111 meters tall and 157 meters wide — is the largest spherical building in the world. The entire Statue of Liberty can fit inside it, the venue’s website points out.
Its interior and exterior are both covered in LED screens, allowing for an unprecedented visual (and sensory) effect experience. The exterior, described as a “creative canvas so bold and bright you can see it from space,” features 53,883 square meters of LEDs. The interior features 14,864 square meters, the equivalent of four football fields.
The U2 concert, showcasing Sphere’s impressive architecture and audiovisual systems in action for the first time, could be said to mark the beginning of a new era for live entertainment. It was attended by many celebrities, including Matt Damon, Oprah, LeBron James, Andre Agassi, Orlando Bloom, and many others.
Here’s a glimpse of U2’s historic performance at the new venue in Las Vegas:
U2 opened the $2.3 billion Las Vegas Sphere last night and the visuals are incredible 🤯pic.twitter.com/szKa5DobRd
— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) September 30, 2023
Next time someone tells you that humans haven’t built anything noteworthy in centuries, show them this video from inside the Sphere from last night’s concert. pic.twitter.com/qY48OX94xJ
— Pomp 🌪 (@APompliano) September 30, 2023
A further look inside the immersive MSG Sphere arena in Las Vegas, which opened with a U2 concert
The 18K resolution wraparound LED screen measuring 160,000 sq ft (15,000 m²) with 166,000 speakers. The largest & highest-resolution LED screen in the worldpic.twitter.com/svyqtz10Md
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) September 30, 2023
So, now, what about sustainability?
Las Vegas Sphere and Sustainability
The venue’s makers say it was “designed to achieve high standards of sustainability and to minimize energy consumption.”
Sphere’s LED screens, they write, use the “most energy-efficient lighting available today.” Its advanced distributed heating and cooling system ensures that wasteful reheating is avoided while the data centers “conform to state-of-the-art energy-efficient hot-aisle containment strategies and in-row cooling.”
“Just as Sphere is setting a new standard for immersive live entertainment, the venue is also setting an industry standard when it comes to renewable energy,” Sphere’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Rich Claffey said. “From the outset, we designed Sphere to minimize environmental impact and to help create a sustainable operation well into the future.”
Sphere Entertainment, the company behind the Las Vegas Sphere, announced in August that about 70% of the venue’s energy would come from solar power. Nevada’s main electricity utility, NV Energy, would provide most of this solar power as part of a 25-year agreement.
“If approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, the agreement will provide the highest amount of dedicated solar power available to Sphere, making it a model for renewable energy use by entertainment venues around the country,” the company wrote in a statement.
According to NV Energy, the power would come from a Sierra Solar Project plant in California that should be fully operational by 2027. The rest of the energy would come from “existing resources” and the impact of any emissions coming from non-renewable sources would be “offset” through renewable energy credits:
“For any portion of electricity that is not derived from renewable sources, Sphere will voluntarily acquire certified renewable energy credits to fully mitigate the impact of emissions from the creation of electricity for the venue.”
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But how much energy are we talking about here, and at what cost? Well, the document submitted to the State Utilities Commission doesn’t include the amount or price (State law permits this) but says that other customers wouldn’t be affected in any way.
According to an NV Energy expert, however, Sphere is expected to need 28 megawatts to run at its peak energy usage. The organization in charge of monitoring the electrical grid in California says that one megawatt can power about 750 homes at once, meaning that the Las Vegas Sphere, at its peak electricity usage, would use enough energy to power 21,000 homes.
There have also been concerns about Sphere’s contribution to Las Vegas’ light pollution. Given how bright the city center already is, the effects of this contribution would be limited but could still impact wildlife.
In her article on Sphere, published last month, Los Angeles Times columnist Carolina A. Miranda reminds us of how, in 2001, the lights of the Luxor Hotel & Casino attracted legions of bats.
“A lot of our birds orient via stars, so if you light up the sky, they can’t see orientation,” University of Nevado Reno biologist Jenny Ouyang told the LA Times, proposing that blue tones be limited during migratory season: “Shorter wavelength light is more damaging, so you can put a longer wavelength reddish light.”
Impressive features and “world’s biggest” achievements aside, one can’t but wonder about the necessity of such an endeavor in present circumstances. For even if Sphere turns out to be the most sustainable venue in the world, powered entirely by renewable energy, is a new venue really what the world needs right now?
Even if it sets a sustainability standard for other venues and all future venues follow the same model, they would still need to be built and would require massive amounts of money and energy that are both desperately needed to address the climate crisis; people would still need to use for now still mostly fossil fuel-powered transportation to get there, increasing traffic and affecting local communities (Las Vegas residents reportedly opposed Sphere’s construction for this reason); they would still consume and generate great amounts of waste, and would make a lot of noise.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The Sphere in Las Vegas as the Moon. Featured Photo Credit: Cory Doctorow.