Shedd Makes Energy Splash

Shedd Makes Energy Splash

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium aspires to do more than keep its 32,000 animals swimming and waddling through attractive exhibits viewed by throngs of children and adults.

An institution built in the teeth of the Depression aims to be the smartest energy and water user of all America’s repositories of culture.

For Bob Wengel, the Shedd vice president of facilities, the challenge is to teach visitors how the marine critters live – and what it will take to keep their global environment and climate healthy.

Wengel’s passion is evident when he describes how he and his team wrestle, every day, with “how to prepare this institution for the next 25 years of energy use in a changing grid environment.”

The energy revolution his team has launched requires sustained commitment, since buildings unwatched backslide on efficiency. “How many LEED buildings are not running at LEED levels?” he asked rhetorically. “What is the definition of a smart building operator? Our team meets every day to talk about how to set up the building each day as an event.”

Shedd operators are learning details of energy use patterns in real time through a network of sub meters. Three-quarters of the lights in the building are being junked and replaced by ultra-thrifty LEDs.

 Within the energy realm, discussions are guided by a bold set of policies. The Shedd intends to cut energy use in half by 2020. Last year, it managed to slice energy consumption 13 percent from 2010 levels.

The aquarium’s Master Energy Roadmap, launched two years ago, aims to save 10 million kilowatt-hours each year – enough power for 750 homes – a healthy slice of a Chicago neighborhood.

Solar panels – 913 of them – sit atop the marine mammal pavilion. On site and local solar power will save the Shedd $100,000 a year on its power bill and keep vital animal life-support equipment running in the event of a power outage. The solar may cover just 3 percent of the Shedd’s load but it has made a “huge reduction in peak demand in the last few years,” Wengel said.

To help island the facility in the face of a power outage, the Shedd is planning to install a 1 megawatt battery that will anchor a microgrid that could encompass its campus and neighboring natural history museum and planetarium. The energy storage will enable the Shedd to enter the ancillary service markets and monetize its grid frequency regulation capabilities, tapping new revenues for the aquarium, Wengel said.

The Shedd has close ties to the local utility, Commonwealth Edison, as both work on existing energy incentives and collaborate on developing meaningful new incentives to advance Chicago’s energy transformation, Wengel said.

Utilities can view the Shedd as “an incredible test bed – we have a variety of environments from around the world,” Wengel said.

The Shedd relies on additional allies to implement its energy vision. “You cannot house all the talent you need in the building,” Wengel said.  Outside participants are thrilled to be partners.

“This is an exciting project for both of our organizations, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago,” said Dean Meyer, executive vice president of Schneider Electric’s buildings business.

Wengel, 45, who comes out of the construction industry, is all in on the energy battle. He quoted America’s beloved riverine bard, Mark Twain, to explain his passion. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

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