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101-year-old Toledo Museum of Art building goes "off the grid" for short time
The latest addition to the Museum’s green arsenal is a 360 kilowatt-hours (kW) solar canopy installed over a large portion of the newly renovated main parking lot.
TOLEDO, OH.- On Tuesday, May 21 the Toledo Museum of Art achieved a milestone in its 20-year effort to reduce energy consumption: its 101-year-old Beaux Arts main building stopped drawing power from the electrical grid and actually started returning power to the system. The ongoing process, which incorporates using sustainable energy practices such as solar power, energy-efficient lighting, micro turbines and chillers, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings over the years.

The latest addition to the Museum’s green arsenal is a 360 kilowatt-hours (kW) solar canopy installed over a large portion of the newly renovated main parking lot. The canopy provides nearly double the renewable energy than the solar arrays on the roof of the main Museum (the roof project alone, started in 2008, ranks as one of the largest solar panel installations in Ohio). The electricity generated by the system will provide up to half of the 250,000-square-foot building’s needs on a sunny day, and will cut annual grid consumption by almost a quarter.

Led by Carol Bintz, chief operating officer, and Paul Bernard, director of the Museum’s physical plant, TMA is the only museum in Ohio – and one of only a handful in the nation – to institute these practices.

“It takes a variety of ideas and a willingness to take risks to embrace and incorporate these technologies,” said Bintz. “Our belief in this from the very beginning has paid off significantly, as our efforts have reduced the electrical usage in the main building by 79 percent.”

Here’s proof: in 1991-92, TMA consumed as much as 700,000kW in a given month; with the addition of new lighting, micro turbines and solar power, those numbers barely reached 117,000kW in 2010-11. The changes were even more evident on a sunny December day in 2012, when the Museum nearly dropped off the grid at midday.

“What prompted the initiatives was simple,” said Bernard. “We needed to reduce costs without compromising gallery conditions. It only took two months for some of the changes to start paying for themselves. We’ve achieved great savings while maintaining the highest standards for our collection and our visitors.”

The effort to save energy is ongoing. “We’ll continue to look for the most energy efficient systems out there.”

It’s a trial-and-error process. “There are some things we’ve tried that we promptly put into the trash,” said Bernhard. “But even if we spend $100 testing something that doesn’t live up to expectations, we quickly recoup that cost when we implement something that does.”

Bernhard cited lighting as a good example. The first generation of LED lights weren’t suitable for illuminating and protecting art, so they were bypassed at the time. Now that the technology has dramatically improved, LED fixtures are now being introduced into the galleries, where lights frequently burn out from continual usage. The new lights not only save energy but last much longer, decreasing labor costs associated with the constant replacement of bulbs. The lighting in the renovated lot is also provided by new LED fixtures, which provide greater illumination while using less electricity.

Bintz and Bernard also added new micro turbines and chillers to the power plant at TMA’s world-famous TMA Glass Pavilion during last year’s energy upgrade. The heat from the building’s working glass hot shop is recycled into the rest of the building during cold months. While generating electricity, the micro turbine waste heat is used to heat the building in the colder months and generate chilled water for air conditioning in the summer.

These techniques protect against other costs that may change over time. “Saving energy means saving money,” said Bintz. “We protect the collection, maintain jobs and do the right thing for the environment, while at the same time putting money back into the programs that support our mission.”

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June 8, 2013

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