Shedd Aquarium Implements Energy Conservation Plan

The tropical fish that dart amongst the coral in the Caribbean reef’s 90,000 gallon tank like their water at 78 degrees. But over in the 3-million gallon oceanarium, the belugas and the white-sided dolphins cannot stand temperatures at more than 58 degrees. And it’s not just the temperatures that must be regulated.

“We have life support systems we have in place to care for our collection of 32,000 animals,” said Mike Delfini, executive vice president and COO at the Shedd Aquarium. "They are very sophisticated and require a lot of energy.”

One and a half million dollars worth of energy, in fact. That’s the bill for heating, cooling and lighting the Shedd last year. The Shedd is now implementing a three-phase plan which they say should cut their energy consumption in half by 2020.

One of the first things Shedd is doing is replacing old light bulbs with LED lights. The 83-year-old chandeliers in the historic lobby are a little brighter, the floor spotlights are now LED, as are the lights over the Caribbean reef tank.

“What we did is we retrofit these from a 1000-watt metal alloy fixture to an 85-watt LED fixture, saving a lot of energy and ambient heat in the building that would also go into the water,” said Bob Wengel, vice president of facilities at the Shedd Aquarium.

It takes thousands of pieces of equipment: pumps, filters, boilers, chillers and air handlers to keep the animal habitats functioning. The Shedd plans to use new technologies to make those machines smarter and cut energy costs and consumption. The biggest improvements will come from the largest exhibits – like the oceanarium.

“It would make a huge difference because we have almost 20 motors here pumping water 24 hours a day,” Wengel said. “If we can cut that usage down by even a quarter, that’s a big jump.”

Wengel monitors the Shedd’s systems from the computerized control room. There are plans for the screens to track the aquarium’s energy use in real-time, generating more savings in energy costs. The Shedd is also planning to install solar panels on the roof for sustainability. But it’s not just about saving money, said Delfini.

“The money is nice but our real motivation is the impact on the environment,” he said. “There is no question sustainability programs here at the Shedd are of utmost importance to us, and we want to be sure all species in the wild are preserved, including the wildlife we show here every day.”

The Shedd also hopes its energy conservation plan will bring new ideas to the public for reducing energy consumption.

“I think they can take away a lot from our energy plan,” Wengel said. “This is such a huge scale, and if we can do it here, it’s really simple to be able to do it in your home.”

Shedd said when its energy program is in place, it will save 10 million kilowatt hours annually – enough to power 750 households.