Power is one of the most important elements of venue planning. Will there be enough? Will the last plug-in of the caterers heat lamp shut down the system? Don’t damage your reputation by failing to ensure whether a venue has adequate power supplies to keep your event rolling without a hitch.
“Electricity is one of those elements that no one really thinks about until it’s gone”— Tweet This Quote. It’s only a critical issue when you don’t have enough of it. For this reason, lessons about power are usually learned the hard way.
If you are planning an event in a hotel, power is usually not an issue. They are used to hosting events and have power readily available—expensive, but available. At other venues, it’s always a gamble and one of the biggest unknowns you will face. That is why one of the first questions I always ask as I scope out a prospective venue is, “How much power do you have?”
The good news with power is that if you don’t have much of it at your site, it’s easy to bring in more. You will spend additional money to bring in alternative sources of power, but that’s just a part of the job. Not every venue will have everything you need—and sometimes you have to bring in your own restrooms, catering facilities, and yes, power sources. The trick is understanding your power requirements from the beginning, so you can budget correctly and bring in enough to get the job done.
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to power is trying to utilize only what’s already in the venue without testing it beforehand at full power. Once the event begins is not the time to be testing the limits of the venue’s power. If you discover an inadequate power situation AFTER the event begins, there is not much else you can do other than hope that you can get technicians out there in time to salvage part of the event.
Older locations are notorious for not having enough power. You may see plenty of wall outlets and think that you’re good to go. If you bank on having enough power based on the number of outlets, here is how your day may play out:
You arrive at the venue in the morning to set everything up and do a test run of the equipment and lighting. You plug in, and everything’s fine for a while. Then the caterer arrives (they’re usually the last ones in), and they start plugging in the heat lamps they will use to keep the food warm. They plug in their coffee machines, the waffle makers, the Panini makers…and all of a sudden, bang! You’re in the dark, and the guests are all arriving.
This is an avoidable situation if you use a little common sense and double check the electrical capabilities. There may have been a lot of outlets, but they were probably all tied to the same circuit. If you plug items into each of those outlets, we guarantee that something is going to give. Circuits are going to blow, and then you will have a much bigger issue on your hands. The lights go off, the band gets shut down, and everything else that was running on power goes offline. It is not only embarrassing when that happens, but also a major headache. Often you have to call in the venue’s engineering staff or someone else to turn the breakers back on—or to even locate the breaker panels to begin with.
Modern diesel generators are quiet compared to the old, noisy, gas-powered ones that tainted so many events in the past. Just make sure that your generator has enough fuel to last for the duration of the event.
And remember, you’re not only contracting for the power itself (the generator), but you also have to order the distribution for the power. That includes all the cabling and boxes it takes to run the power from wherever the generator is sitting to the precise location(s) you need it in the venue. Regular household extension cords will not suffice in such situations. You need the industrial strength, big, heavy cables with distribution boxes for plugging in all of your elements.
CALCULATING POWER REQUIREMENTS
How do you know how much power your event will require? Here is the most straightforward way to go about it: Once you have identified all of the elements for the event—entertainment, decorations, lighting, band, audio, video equipment, photo booths, catering, and so forth—have each supplier provide you with their power needs, and then calculate your total needs accordingly. You can then contact the venue and give them your power requirements. Request a quote in writing from their power provider or from the venue itself. This will give you a rough idea of what your potential power charges are going to be. Once you have completed your final CAD, be sure that you identify the location and quantity of each power drop that is required. You can then resubmit that drawing to the power provider, and who can give you a revised and exact quote for the power charges. If your event is going to be at a hotel, they’ll have an in-house electrical contractor. His job is to take your power requirements and provide you with the power you need where you need it.
Power is not cheap, and it’s also something that a venue often uses as a profit generator. Always remember to ask for a power estimate prior to the event. Once the event has happened and you are gone, they can bill you for charges that you have no way of challenging if you didn’t ask for an estimate. Never underestimate the cost, because it can be pretty substantial.
There is more to event planning and power than plugging things in and hoping everything will work flawlessly. One must plan for and budget for additional power should the venue’s power supply fall short in pre-planning. These costs can rise quite quickly so better to know them early in the planning process.
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