OVERVIEW - How much energy does Las Vegas actually use?

Las Vegas. Author: Joseph De Palma.

November 30 (Renewables Now) - Behind China, the US is the second worst offender on the planet when it comes to carbon emissions. Extensive car use and a continued reliance on fossil fuels look like they are not going to be reduced either, with President Donald Trump announcing US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and investment into the ailing coal industry instead. In an inefficient and wasteful nation, Las Vegas is one of the main offenders.

Despite trailblazing renewable energy schemes being present in Nevada since the early part of last century, the city is still an energy-guzzling monster that is consuming energy faster than it can produce it, despite ‘official’ figures that point to Las Vegas running 100% on renewable energy. It turns out that the brightly lit slot machines, gigantic video billboards and millions of light bulbs that pepper pretty much every building on the strip add up, along with the constant air condition systems that are the real culprits for extended energy use. The truth is that the energy headache is a long way off being solved, despite some new plans that will go some way to ensuring the city is not plunged into darkness anytime soon.

It is not like Nevada is averse to renewable energy. Back in the 1930s, The Colorado River was chosen as the location of a major hydroelectric dam, partly to provide power to cities on the West Coast, partly to provide employment for thousands of men during the great depression. The Hoover Dam became America’s great renewable energy programme, and is still a major tourist attraction to this day with spectacular views over the valley and the relatively new Lake Mead. The truth now though is that the Dam’s ability to provide electricity for 8 million people simply will not be enough if consumption keeps going at the current rate.

If there is one thing that Las Vegas and Nevada have plenty of, it is sunshine. The average 294 days of sunny weather and desert conditions make for ideal solar power generating conditions, and there is one of America’s largest facilities out on the Ivanpah dry lake. Using a tower mounted boiler and a huge array of mirrors, the concentrated solar power (CSP) plant provides 392 MW  of clean energy. To put things into perspective though, it would take several hundred of these USD-2.2-billion facilities to cover the state’s current and future energy needs.

Las Vegas may have started life as a desolate row of buildings in the desert, but the arrival of West Coast criminals looking to relax in the sun and take advantage of Nevada’s relaxed gambling laws soon turned the pock-marked road and adobe buildings into a bustling street packed with casinos. The old Las Vegas Strip, and its newer counterpart, are the whole reason the city exists in the way it does, transforming from a smattering of casinos and hotels into the bustling, sprawling 1-million-plus person metropolis that it is today. The casino industry employs around 170,000 people, along the thriving retail, events, catering and hotel industries that create an entire city worth of people just in croupiers, security staff, barmen, retail workers, chefs and musicians. The city has grown massively even in the last decade, matching the transformation of the city from just a paradise for gambling into an international hub for conferences, music events and fine dining. Despite this surge in residents, the energy usage is surprisingly unbalanced.

There are 40 major casinos in Las Vegas accounting for around 150,000 hotel rooms. Taking up considerably less real estate than the sprawling suburbs and condominiums that house the staff that work in them, Casinos are still responsible for over 20% of Las Vegas’ energy usage. This astounding proportion of energy used by these individual buildings is way higher than other similar sized buildings across the world. After the power-sapping air conditioning, the worst offender, is accounted for, the amazing 12.5 million LEDs that light up Fremont Street and the Bellagio fountain that cost USD 5 million every year in utility bills are just some of the rampant wastes of energy used to ‘enhance’ visitor experience. Even astronauts have pointed out just how bright Las Vegas is from space, an accolade which just goes to show the level of light pollution the city throws out every single night.

A simple solution for environmentally gamblers would be to simply stop visiting these casinos until they address their energy consumption. Extravagant spending and the lack of waste-consciousness would alter if everyone stopped visiting casinos. This may seem extreme and of course gamblers would miss out on the action, but there is another more environmentally friendly solution that is perfectly legal in Nevada. Online casino gaming gets pretty close to the real thing now, thanks to well-designed virtual gaming rooms and engaging online slots. Instead of feeding a slot machine which consumes as much power as a small electric heater, gamers can play online slots, and as an added bonus they do not have to be in the casino to experience the fun. Pixels consume way less power than clunky old mechanical machines, and they pay out at way better odds too.

Nevada recognises that things need to change. USD 5 million have been devoted to upgrading low voltage systems and pushing renewable energy sources to make 25% of the state’s energy completely renewable by 2020. Judging by the current reliance on natural gas (over 70% of Las Vegas’ electricity comes from the burning of it), along with President Trump’s refusal to invest in renewables, this target is now looking extremely unlikely.

In terms of hard figures, Las Vegas’ energy usage clocks in at somewhere around 8,000 MW on a hot day (which is almost every day). To put things into perspective, the same amount of energy could be used to power over 8 million homes – or the entire state of Idaho, industry, homes, transport and all, for just over 24 hours.

Despite the projects in the pipeline to try and alleviate the excessive energy consumption in Las Vegas, as well as green initiatives offered to hotels, it looks like we are still a long way off sustainable power usage in Sin City. As long as casinos continue to make so much money that the energy bill does not matter, and as long as the US has a president who back-tracks on previous climate change agreements, then Las Vegas will continue to contribute to its reputation for excess in all areas.

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