Conservation has always been a major concern for zoos, from habitat conservation to protecting animal populations with dwindling numbers. Two Ohio zoos, though, are leading the way into another branch of conservation--energy conservation.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens
and the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
have both made headlines in the last two years for their green technology efforts, investing millions while enlisting help from the state's green industry to become leaders in the field.
Over the past five years, the Cincinnati Zoo has invested $1 million in energy improvements, upgrading 73 buildings--including elevating five to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and other initiatives like switching to energy-saving LED lights for its annual holiday display.
The biggest splash in the Ohio zoo green movement is just starting to pay off, though. Earlier this year, the zoo completed construction on an $11 million, four-acre, 15-foot high "solar canopy" that covers 800 spaces in its parking lot. The system, billed as the largest, publicly accessible urban solar array in the country, consists of 6,400 panels that generate 1.56 megawatts--providing nearly 20 percent of the zoo's energy requirements.
Along with saving the zoo millions in energy costs, the project also includes education benefits. It funds 10 scholarships at Cincinnati State's Green Workforce Development Program and includes an onsite kiosk that shows the array's performance and extolls the virtue of solar energy. The zoo began using the array in April, soon after completion.
., owned by green technology activist Steve Melink, designed the structure and served as developer. It also secured the financing for the array, and will operate the array for the zoo. The Milford-based company jumped onto the "green bandwagon" early, specializing in high-efficiency restaurant exhaust systems since 1987 before moving into solar projects over the past decade.
Thane Maynard, executive director of the zoo, said there was no better place to showcase solar technology.
"As the greenest zoo in America, there is no better place to showcase this technology and to help the public understand that not only is this technology the right thing to do for our energy future," he said, "but it makes absolute financial sense as well."
The Cincy Zoo might have a battle on its hands for the "greenest" title, though.
Just up I-71, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium announced in October plans for a solar array to surpass its Cincinnati counterpart. Construction starts next year.
"We're excited about the solar array," says zoo director of planning Barbara Revard. "Everything's still in the planning stages, but I think we're comfortable in saying that we think it will be somewhere between a 2.5-to-3 megawatt system."
Taking the lead in the project is Athens-based Third Sun Solar
, one of the state's fastest-growing solar firms. Founded in 2000 by the aptly named Geoff and Michelle Greenfield and operating out of the Innovation Center at Ohio University
, the company has become a regional leader in implementing solar technology. It's been named to Inc. magazine's “Inc. 5,000" for three years in a row.
The planned solar array isn’t the only trick in Columbus zoo's green hat, however. Three years ago, it opted to utilize geothermal technology in another of its projects, the Polar Frontier exhibit. Opening this past May, the $20 million exhibit circulates 300,000 gallons of water to a tank that serves as home to polar bears. The mostly underground system keeps the water at a constant chilled temperature, using a fraction of the energy of other options.
The zoo has also "gone green" in other areas, from pioneering use of new Flux Drive pump products that have led to a 40 percent reduction in energy costs, to recently installing "smart skylights" in one of its buildings.
The skylights, produced by Ciralight Global
out of Corona, Calif., consist of motorized mirrors and sensors that rotate the mirrors to catch sunlight and reflect it inside, where its needed. The result is an electricity-independent, natural light source that provides better light at less cost.
"We joke that we're finding things in the warehouse that we didn't even realize were there," says Revard.
Columbus-based Energy Solutions Group
worked with the zoo on bringing the "flux drive" and skylights into the fold.
Both the Cincinnati and Columbus zoos are leaders in implementing green technology, but they're far from alone. Every few months, representatives from all Ohio's zoos get together to talk about moving toward more environmentally friendly initiatives. The group, called the Ohio Zoo Green Consortium, consists of about 30 representatives from around the state, said Revard.
"The fun thing for us all is working together and talking about what we're doing, what's working well and what's next," said Revard. "It's our hope that we can not only share that information with other zoos in Ohio, but also serve as a model to zoos outside the state."