Roof with solar panels in placeThe sky is never the limit for Shedd Aquarium. Last week, Shedd placed 913 solar panels along the edge of its rooftop gardens. These dark blue panels stand out before the Chicago skyline, leaving no doubt that the aquarium is now shining a little brighter.

Shedd’s 265-kilowatt solar panel project is a highlight in itself—it is the largest installation at any cultural institution in Illinois—but it’s only the first step of Shedd’s plan to cut energy usage in half by 2020.

When we think of energy savings at home, we consider switching to efficient light bulbs, unplugging appliances and programming the thermostat. At Shedd these concepts are similar, but complicated by the habitat requirements of the animals. While the belugas cruise in water chilled to 60 degrees, our sea turtle swims in a 90,000-gallon sea maintained at a tropical 80 degrees. That means that Shedd must be creative in how it balances its energy use.  

Beyond installing solar panels, Shedd has upgraded to LED lighting, created a building-wide automation system and designed a responsive program to reduce energy use in office areas—turning off lights, dropping the temperature—when staffers aren’t there. Other innovative ideas in Shedd’s plan include daylight harvesting and creating a Museum Campus power grid. All these energy-efficient changes will save Shedd 10 million kilowatt hours—the equivalent of powering 750 households—but more important, they spotlight Shedd’s commitment to the living world. Through sustainable practices, Shedd reduces waste and better protects the natural habitats of the animals it cares for. These green initiatives also go hand-in-hand with Shedd’s conservation programs.

With the new solar panels, Shedd is ready to bring new energy to the aquarium—but it wouldn’t have been possible without private and public support of the $1.1 million project. Recently, Governor Pat Quinn climbed onto Shedd’s roof to kick off the first phase of the project. Other organizations were also involved, including the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Illinois Energy Office, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Schneider Electric.

For now, we can only hope that the sun will continue to shine this fall—despite Chicago’s unpredictable weather—so the panels can keep soaking up the sun. In other words, “Let the sunshine in!”

Nadia Hlebowitsh, web team