Elephant poo and solar among hot topics at USGBC conference

| by Teena Hammond
Elephant poo and solar among hot topics at USGBC conference

Everything from elephant dung and manatee pools to net-zero energy homes and solar power was discussed at the U.S. Green Building Council's Midwest regional conference.

One the most popular sessions at Greening the Heartland 2011 was led by Mark Fisher, director of facilities for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The zoo has undertaken many green efforts in the past five years, such as adding solar panels, recycled building materials and a system to eliminate rainwater runoff.

During his presentation, Fisher discussed the changes at the zoo, mentioning the use of animal waste — yes, zoo poo — to heat, cool and light the elephant and giraffe houses as the waste is converted to energy. The project is underway and isn't fully implemented yet. The process is known as biomass.

Fisher discussed how, when he joined the zoo staff, he immediately began looking for ways to cut back on energy costs. "The first thing I asked when I started was 'where's your green team?'" he said. "They said they didn't have one."

"I assumed it's a zoo, conservation, animals, but no." The zoo didn't recycle, and energy and water was being wasted. Instead of doing a formal energy audit, he did his own walkthrough at the zoo and immediately found ways to cut costs, from simply turning off an unnecessary dehumidifier unit to unplugging unused freezers and refrigerators.

The first water bill he received at the zoo was $70,000, for one month's usage of 20 million gallons. "We started digging into it and we decided water was going to be our thing for the green team," he said. The zoo used a total of 220 million gallons per year, which was about average for a zoo that size.

He immediately found places where water leaks were resulting in clean water pouring directly into the sewers, and he'd soon reduced the zoo's water usage to two-thirds of the previous amount per year. "We'll be down to 50 million gallons in a few years," he said.

The money saved from water bills was poured into other green projects. From 2006-2010, the zoo saved $2.4 million in utility bills, spending just $1 million on upgrades to reach that point of savings. The zoo has also reduced its carbon footprint from 2006-2010 by 35.8 percent.

The zoo has also recently installed a new $11 million solar canopy, capable of producing 1.56megawatts. The canopy consists of 6,400 panels assembled on more than 100 metal arrays that are 15-feet to 18-feet high. It covers nearly four acres of space in the parking lot. It is one of the country's largest urban solar arrays accessible to the public. The canopy will provide about 20 percent of the zoo's annual electricity usage and help reduce the zoo's $700,000 annual electric bill.

The solar panels were made by SolarWorld and developed, engineered and installed by Melink Corp.

Another well-attended session was The Road to Net Zero, with strategies given on how to achieve a net zero building. Joe Kohrs, principal for mechanical at KLH Engineers, explained different ways that geothermal can be installed, and pointed out a large-scale project at Ball State University that will be the nation's largest closed-loop geothermal system when completed. It will reduce the amount of CO2 produced by nearly 80,000 tons annually. The project will cost $65 million to $70 million, and will save $2 million a year on energy costs.

Jeff Millard, principal for electric at KLH Engineers, discussed vertical axis wind turbines and how the size, since they're not as tall as other wind turbines, allows for fewer zoning issues. The geographic location also has a big impact, since wind patterns differ throughout the country. The Cincinnati Zoo has a 26-foot tall vertical axis wind turbine, he said.

The conference was on June 22-24 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. It had approximately 650 attendees and 75 exhibitors.

"We're very pleased with the outcome of Greening the Heartland this year," said Myron Rivers, executive director of the USGBC Cincinnati Regional Chapter. "We thought it was a huge success. We built the entire conference about delivering world class information and education and we were able to deliver on that promise."

The Greening the Heartland 2012 conference will be in Indianapolis on May 16-18.

Topics: Certification / LEED, Energy Audits, Going Green, Solar Power, Water Saving Devices

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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