Adjusting Shedd's chandelierWhen Shedd Aquarium opened its doors in 1930, energy goals were much different from today’s green initiatives. Take, for example, the four beautiful chandeliers hanging in the main foyer. They are illuminated by a whopping 600 bulbs, a design that showed off the new age of electric lighting—when an opulent display of bulbs was a measure of success.

Today, technological feats of the past present a challenge as the nation’s most-visited aquarium aims to be a model for green energy. In partnership with several Illinois energy leaders, Shedd’s goal is to be the country’s first smart-powered cultural institution, cutting energy consumption in half by 2020. The partnerships are a critical part of helping Shedd meet its unique energy needs, which include the power to exactingly maintain natural environments for more than 32,500 animals around the clock. Working with the City of ChicagoIllinois Science and Technology Coalition, the Institute for Sustainable Energy Development, Citizens Utility BoardWest Monroe Partners and the Civic Consulting Alliance, Shedd has created a plan to transform its energy management, called a Master Energy Roadmap. This roadmap will make Shedd more than a leader, but also a sustainable-energy innovator.

“Such a new, groundbreaking endeavor would be a challenge for one organization to do on its own,” said Mark Harris, president and CEO of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. The roadmap isn’t just about the facility; it’s also about providing aquarium visitors and the Chicago area with learning opportunities. Harris says the project will demonstrate why other organizations around the country should follow Shedd’s model.

With its Master Energy Roadmap, Shedd can continue providing top-quality care and homes for its animals while also lowering its energy costs and adopting cleaner, more efficient energy practices. The kilowatts we plan to save each year could power 750 households! A key element of cutting energy is the ability to receive precise information about where and how the aquarium uses energy. Electric submeters will be installed throughout the building so that we can monitor patterns of energy use; these systems will enable Shedd to control usage and reduce demand.

But those historic chandeliers won’t have to go! They’ve already been refitted with high-efficiency LEDs. In fact, Shedd will replace 75 percent of its conventional light bulbs with LEDs. The plan will also include energy storage, on-site solar-power additions and real-time energy management in coordination with ComEd.

Shedd is already a global leader in conservation, and its efforts begin at home through sustainable operations. The building includes advanced systems that keep our animals naturally comfortable—and our sustainability experts happy. For example, Shedd’s beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins prefer water around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. When it’s chilly outside, their water is fed through pipes outside the building to conduct a natural heat exchange, cooling the water without using mechanical chillers. This saves a lot of energy and keeps costs down, too. Learn more about conserving energy at home. 

Joe Garber, conservation communications