Striving to Be Greenest Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo Installs 1.56MW Solar Canopy Above Parking Lot

cincinnati zoo solar plant photo

Image: Courtesy of Dave Jenike

The Cincinnati Zoo already partners with a local garden shop to compost the one million pounds of "Zoo Do"—elephant dung, horse droppings, rhino waste, etc.—that are produced at the zoo every year. Now, it will be powered in part by solar energy produced on-site: above the parking lot, actually, where a 6,400-panel installation has just been completed.The panels rest in more than 100 metal arrays, cover about 800 of the 1,000 main-entrance parking spots, and are about 15 to 18 feet high. The zoo calls it the country's largest publicly accessible, urban solar array, and hopes that the visibility of it will provide visitors with an education or at least pique their interest in solar power.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:

Workers finished installing the last solar panels Friday. The project has already sparked calls from more than a dozen zoos from as far away as California and Oregon interested in the project and how it was put together.

Mark Fisher, the zoo's senior director of facilities, planning and sustainability, said it's creating a buzz from visitors as well. "Some people wonder what the heck it is, and those who have heard about it are surprised at how big it is," he said.

Environmental Leader reports that Melink Corporation, which developed the installation, will own and operate the panels and then sell the electricity for about eight cents a kWh—about the same price as what the main utility charges, but will reportedly be locked in for seven years.

The compost project continues. A blog post from the zoo said that in the first week alone, the composting project had diverted 7.31 tons of waste from the landfill. "Using the first week as an estimate, the Zoo will be diverting somewhere between 420 -530 tons of waste during 2011! This equates to a reduction of about 8,000-10,000 kg of methane, and 170 to 210 metric tons of equivalent carbon dioxide!"

While these are great steps for the environment, however, it's still a zoo, and problems remain with captivity, stress behaviors and treatment of animals that are worth thinking about before your next trip to a zoo, solar-powered or not.

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