Experimenting with power: Cloudbass on pushing the boundaries of sustainable production on Speedway with Tesla Powerwall batteries

Cloudbass recently ran a first of its kind trial in sustainability for TNT Sports, with the main broadcast powered by 10 Tesla Powerwall batteries

At Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ first Speedway of the season at Perry Barr Stadium in Birmingham, technical services provider Cloudbass ran a first of its kind trial that took the production to groundbreaking levels of sustainability.

Working on the broadcast for TNT Sports on 29 April 2024, Cloudbass powered the main broadcast from a revolutionary setup using 10 Tesla Powerwall batteries.

On the day the broadcast truck – CBOB5 – ran off 10 Tesla Powerwall batteries, a single set generator, as well as a twin set of generators on site as backup although they were not needed. As IP was not available at the stadium a sat truck was used and that was powered by a generator, however Steve Knee, managing director at Cloudbass, stated after the afternoon’s broadcast that there had been enough power to run that also.

Meanwhile the pits were run off a portable power system called Instagrid with 2.1 kilowatt hours available. That ran the pit broadcast including radio cameras, radio mics, and in-ear mics. Another Instagrid ran the commentary position.

Says Knee on the broadcast trial, it is the, “first in UK, could be the first in the world for this kind of set up, and it’s incredibly exciting”.

The Tesla batteries in the back of Cloudbase’s CBOB5 truck for Speedway

Experimenting with power

Knee explains how the experiment came about: “This started a few years ago now where I was putting together an RFP for a major broadcaster, and obviously we get the questions on sustainability in those RFPs, and I thought actually, rather than just virtue signalling, let’s get down to where this carbon is being produced. I worked up a little spreadsheet, which I call our carbon calculator, and I went through a typical job and the transport and the power generation are the areas that the bulk of the carbon would be generated from.

“It became very clear that it wasn’t so much the trucks going to site; it was clear that the two areas most of the carbon on a job was coming from was crew transport – lots of people going to site in individual cars – and power generation.”

Cloudbass has its own power systems division which means it is able to integrate its power solution with its technical solutions, and therefore experiment. Comments Knee: “Whereas traditionally having a separate power supplier makes it more difficult to overcome any kind of issues, we’re able to pursue things and look at ways to do things in a different way.”

Cloudbass’ experimentation with battery power started just after the pandemic, while it was working on a BBC Alba contract using smaller vans for a four camera production. Notes Knee: “This allowed us to back the entire truck up with UPS, so we went to this model where we took two generators to site with the whole truck backed up on UPS. We only had to run one generator and then if we had a problem, we had 15 minutes to switch over to the other generator and carry on running, which means you’re immediately more efficient.

“What this also then allowed us to do as we were doing the Scottish Premier League for Sky, and for BBC Alba as well back then, we got some shore power supplies put into the stadiums, a 63 amp three phase. This meant that we could actually run off that shore supply and, again, if we had a problem, we had 15 minutes to fire up the generator and carry on from the generator and then off we go. So we had already started moving towards different kind of power generation methods and different ways of working, but obviously the big sticking point is the larger trucks.”

Ramping up knowledge

Members of the Cloudbass team decided to ramp up their knowledge of battery power to see where it could go. Explains Knee: “A year ago I wanted to get my teeth into domestic solar and battery storage because I really wanted to understand how it worked and what the real world data is and how you could use it.

“Three of the directors [at Cloudbass] had solar and battery storage installed in our homes, so I’ve been experiencing the Tesla Powerwall for the last year. I’ve got a really clear idea about how the Tesla Powerwalls work and how they go between grid supply, solar supply, and running off the Powerwalls.

“One thing that was clear to me is the way it was seamless in how it mixes between the different power sources,” continues Knee. So I thought, “right, okay, we need to try this on outside broadcast and take our power solution and our power to sites rather than relying on any kind of shore power”, because the problem when you go to site with shore power is that quite often if something’s changed at the venue or that supply is not working, and you’re there on a Saturday and there’s a problem with it, you often can’t get someone to fix it and what have you, which is why we use generators because we know that we can turn up and we’re going to have power.”

Chaining up to 10 Tesla Powerwalls together provides 135 kilowatt hours of storage. A typical Tesla Model 3 car has around 75 kilowatt hours, so 135 kilowatt hours, “is actually quite an appreciable amount of storage,” says Knee.

On taking the leap to running an OB on Tesla batteries, Knee says: “So it was like, “OK, we think this could just about work”. We had lots of real-world data based on how much draw our Scottish solution in the vans was using. I realised that actually a Tesla Powerwall solution would run us for 15 hours with no problem, even transmitting on satellite. That’s more than enough time to do a production. We looked for a production that there were cost pressures on, and where this solution would allow us a bit of freedom to experiment, and Speedway seemed the obvious choice.”

He adds: “We are going off grid and we’re running just off batteries when we go to air rather than any kind of redundant supply, so we’re not relying on shore power at all; we’re isolated. But if you can get some shore power at venues, then that would extend the run term of what you can do.”

At Speedway in Birmingham on 29 April 2024, the pits were run off a portable power system called Instagrid with 2.1 kilowatt hours available. That ran the pit broadcast including radio cameras, radio mics, and in-ear mics. Another Instagrid ran the commentary position

Sustainable Speedway

Speedway and the production company working on the contract alongside Cloudbass, Saint Media, are open to experimentation in the broadcast of this to help increase production values while respecting the budget.

Knee explains: “As to why Speedway, well, it’s a contract that is delivered to a certain price point so the client is more open to experimentation and innovation that can bring the cost down. We’ve got an independent production company who we work very well with in terms of trying new things and they’re very openminded to doing new things, and they’re very openminded to potentially removing themselves from site and being able to work from the cloud anywhere.

“With Speedway, we’re pushing along with Grass Valley’s AMPP solution, which is a cloud-based production solution,” continues Knee. “We’ve built an AMPP gallery at our base in Derbyshire, but as you start to do that, then it means you’re lessening your load on-site in terms of power usage.

All these factors came together to allow Cloudbass to look at using an alternative power solution. To get it to the point where it would actually work, the firm had to look at the power supply the truck would need and make a few tweaks on what was used onboard to ensure the power would last.

“It’s understanding all of those different things that are needed, so the production works in harmony with the technical facilities and the power solution to actually get it all to a point that it’s going to work,” says Knee.

“So that’s why Speedway made a lot of sense because we just had this great relationship with production and there was an agenda on the broadcaster side and the production side to get costs down and look at ways of innovating. We had buy-in from everyone to explore.”

After the broadcast finished the Powerwall system still had 30% battery power remaining, and 20% by the time the derig was finished. Knee stated that with solar panels installed on top of the truck, not only can a live production top up its own power on the go, but the OB truck could potentially recharge the bulk of the Powerwalls during the week while sitting at base.

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