Shedd Aquarium, Chicago’s most popular cultural attraction, has rolled out a plan that will launch it as the first clean energy-powered facility of its kind in the country.
“It’s a brand new initiative,” said Elise Waugh, a communications and public relations coordinator at Shedd. “It’s going to be something that other institutions can look to as a model for their own.”
A Master Energy Roadmap aims to cut energy consumption of the 83-year-old indoor public aquarium in half by 2020. Robert Wengel, the aquarium’s vice president of facilities, said about 10 million kilowatt-hours, enough to power 750 houses, are expected to be saved annually.
“It’s a comprehensive strategy,” Wengel said. “We’re going to go from an energy saver, which is what we are now, to an energy leader and to an energy innovator.”
Shedd has begun the journey toward energy efficiency by changing the exhibits’ lighting systems. systen.
“We’ve done a lot of LED lighting retrofit,” Wengel said. “And that actually produced more light and a crisper light.”
Wengel said the 600 light bulbs illuminating the four chandeliers in the main foyer were replaced with LED bulbs. That move is expected to save $7000 a year on energy costs.
The smart energy plans also include the installation of electricity sub meters and automation systems to audit, control and monitor energy use. An On-site solar power system will cut more than $100,000 annually on electricity bills and provide power in the event of a should a blackout occur. Wengel said the flow or pressure of pumps in the giant-size tanks, built to replicate the natural environment of the sea creatures, will be monitored by variable-frequency drives (VFDs). Wild Reef, the largest tank, holds 400,000 gallons of water.
The energy roadmap was designed in partnership with the City of Chicago, the Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Development.,
“This project is a real opportunity to not only reduce energy consumption for Shedd, but its larger implication is a model site for sustainable energy investments,” said Mark Harris, the president and CEO of ISTC. “It’s really going to provide visibility and a better understanding of the benefits of smart energy practices. So, it’s a phenomenal effort that will help not only the Shedd, but other institutions.”
Wengel said the full cost of implementing these changes over the next seven years is not yet known.
“If you look at what we’re going to spend this year on projects, probably just over a million dollars, but as far as how we are going to strategize the rest of those costs throughout, we’re still kind of trying to figure that out,” Wengel said.
Chicago resident and homeowner, Gerald Farinas, said he has been greatly inspired by Shedd’s conservation efforts.
“Lowering the cost I pay out of my pocket has been the main inspiration to switch to energy-conserving appliances, electronics, and yes, even the coiled LED bulbs,” Farinas said. “Shedd’s saving enough electricity to power 750 homes. That is an incredible amount. That’s a difference that shouldn’t be ignored and should be applauded.”
And that’s just the kind of effect Shedd hopes to have on its visitors who number up to 2 million a year. The facility attraction was the most visited aquarium in the U.S. in 2005. With 32,500 animals and 1500 species, it has the most diverse aquatic collection of any aquarium in the world.
“We want to be able to make what we do relatable to people in their homes, so when they come here we want to talk about it and tell stories so they can leave and do some of the stuff we’re doing, just on a smaller scale,” Wengel said.
Mayor Emanuel also praised the sea-life haven at 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive. The city has its own energy reduction goals and timeline.
“Shedd’s Master Energy Roadmap is an incredible step toward achieving our 2015 goal of improving citywide energy efficiency by five percent,” Emanuel said in a statement last month.