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As Patriots (and pro sports) go solar, will fans follow?

The New England Patriots are just the latest to turn to solar energy to power their vast complexes. From Boston to Los Angeles, teams are taking advantage of the falling price of solar panels. But for their fans, it's a bigger financial leap. 

By Staff writer / August 20, 2012

A solar installation on top of Patriot Place, the entertainment complex next to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., uses 2,556 panels to produce 525 kilowatts of electricity.

Constellation Energy

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When New England Patriots fans return to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., for Monday's preseason game, dreaming no doubt about another shot at the Super Bowl, they'll be greeted by nearly 2,600 rooftop panels pointed at the sun. The Patriots, known for their smart tactics on the field, are switching to solar power for their off-field shopping and dining complex next door to the stadium.

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What's going on? Is pro football going "green"? Are premier smash-mouth athletes really tree-huggers with shoulder pads?

The Patriots are just the latest in a growing number of professional sports teams going solar. From the Cardinals baseball stadium in St. Louis to the Los Angeles complex housing that city's basketball and hockey teams, franchises are using their big flat-roofed buildings and vast parking lots to cut their power bill. The bigger question is: Will their fans follow suit?

So far, residential solar installations lag far behind commercial ones. For example: 60 percent of the energy used by the Patriots' complex, known as Patriot Place, will come from the sun; the number is less than 0.1 percent for the average resident of Greater Boston. Economics and logistics explain part of the growing disparity. It's easier and cheaper to install panels on flat roofs and acres of parking space than on the average American home. But it also has to do with perception.

"People don't yet see [solar] as a normal thing," says Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy program at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. "But if they see more examples of it, they aren't going to feel weird" about using solar power for their own homes.

That's the hope, anyway.

For pro sports complexes, solar energy and other clean power sources are quickly becoming the norm. Last September, the Washington Redskins franchise installed a two-megawatt solar array at FedEx Field, involving 8,000 solar modules that double as canopies in the stadium's parking lots. The setup provides an estimated 20 percent of the complex's power on game days, according to NRG Solutions, a New Jersey-based energy company that engineered the solar installations at FedEx Field, Patriot Place, and several other pro sports facilities.

In Seattle, now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra installed a 2.5-acre solar array on the roof of the Seahawks' Qwest Field event center. In Philadelphia, plans are well under way to make Eagles home turf Lincoln Financial Field the greenest of them all, with the addition of 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines.

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