How NBC’s ‘La Brea’ Took a “Solid Step” Toward a More Sustainable TV Set

NBC’s La Brea, which follows a massive sinkhole opening in the middle of Los Angeles, is doing its part to ensure that world-ending disasters remain a fictional, on-screen occurrence.

The drama, currently shooting its second season in Australia, is an early film or TV production to use a hybrid lithium-ion battery system to power the unit base. In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of the production and make the industry more sustainable moving forward, production firm Red Fox Unit Services and energy company Aggreko worked together to trial two hybrid battery banks (manufactured by POWR2) — the first of their kind in Australia.

Though Hollywood has made big sustainable changes in recent years, clean energy has remained the biggest problem, with battery generators previously not having been powerful enough to replace diesel and fuel entire sets. These two new batteries, though, take approximately two hours of diesel running time to fully charge up, and in La Brea‘s case, power 30 working trucks at unit base, including convection ovens, air conditioners, tumble dryers, water heaters and water pumps for up to 24 hours. The alternative would be to run diesel-powered generators for that entire operation.

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Two battery units of 90KVA are set up on trucks, which are charged by a diesel engine. The battery and diesel unit talk wirelessly to one another with the engine kicking in to charge the battery once it gets to 10 percent. According to NBCUniversal, over 12 weeks of production the hybrid system has saved thousands of liters of fuel per month, which translates to significantly reduced CO2 emissions.

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“We are consistently exploring opportunities to make our productions more sustainable — from our one-of-a-kind asset reuse centers, to energy efficient LED set lighting, to alternative sources of power for our sets,” said Erin Underhill, president of Universal Television, in a statement. “We are thrilled to have La Brea season two utilizing new and innovative technologies to green their production. It’s a solid step in the right direction and creates a pathway for future productions all over the world.”

In addition to fuel and emissions reduction, the set’s unit manager has recorded benefits in a more reliable current, meaning fewer power surges than with diesel generators, and a reduction in crew hours. Where crews previously needed to switch to a back-up generator at night to give the main unit a break, the hybrid units can run for four to five days without any assistance, and can be monitored remotely if needed. They are also much quieter than traditional generators.

“The real plus at the end of the day, however, is the huge saving in diesel fuel consumption and our reduction in CO2 emissions,” said Red Fox Unit Services’ Richie Young. “It is quite simply a game changer.”

While battery generators have become more and more common on major productions — as studios see the value in investing in sustainability — these batteries represent a new hybrid technology that harnesses the power of diesel and multiples it in a clean form. There are currently still barriers with availability, crew training, sizing and the impact of cold weather, but as the technology grows it could be used by large-scale productions to meet production needs.

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“Moving from diesel generators to this hybrid system is a great way to reduce our environmental impact,” added Jerry DiCanio, executive vp of production operations for UTV. “We look forward to continuing to explore ways to lower emissions on our productions.”

As the Sustainable Production Alliance found in a report published in March 2021, the industry has a significant carbon footprint that needs addressing. Looking at CO2 emission averages for SPA’s member company productions in the years between 2016 and 2019, the report found tentpole productions had an average carbon footprint of 3,370 metric tons (about 33 metric tons per shooting day), with large films at an average of 1,081 metric tons and small films at 391 metric tons — all with fuel from production vehicles and generators as the biggest culprit.

On the TV side, one-hour scripted dramas had an average carbon footprint of 77 metric tons per episode and half-hour scripted single-camera shows had 26 metric tons per episode. For reference, the University of Michigan reported in 2021 that a typical U.S. household has a carbon footprint of 48 metric tons per year.

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