January 06, 2017

A Different Kind of "Alternative" History

Micaela Allen, Communications Fellow

You don’t have to travel too far into the future to find clean energy alternatives being used in everyday life. In fact, you can even travel to the past.

Historical pasts are meeting sustainable futures at several famous landmarks worldwide, which are now being powered with alternative energy – proving that just because a landmark lives in the past doesn’t mean its energy sources have to.

Paris is leading this marriage of antiquity and functionality in a city-wide green effort that has even reached the Eiffel Tower. The 126- year- old landmark has recently been equipped with two on-site wind turbines located on the second floor of the structure’s metal scaffolding.  The two turbines, designed by VisionAIR5, stand at 5.2 meters high and 3.2 meters wide. Having been painted to match the scaffolding and made to operate at a quiet lull due to lower blade tip speed and low number of revolutions per minute (RPM), these turbines don’t distract from the tower’s structural beauty. These turbines are expected to produce 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is the total annual demand of the site’s first floor, restaurants, gift shop and history exhibits.

The Eiffel Tower isn’t ending its green efforts there.  The tower is currently installing rainwater collection systems to supply water for its toilets, high-efficiency LED lights and solar panels. Through its efforts to reduce the tower’s environmental impact by 25 percent, the City of Lights is making sure its nickname isn’t too heavy a burden for the country’s economy or environment.

More locally, clean energy initiatives at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts bridge the gap between historic appearance and smart energy consumption. Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum that depicts New England life from 1790 to 1840. And while life may seem simple at this museum, the electricity bills are anything but, reportedly costing the village up to $600,000 a year. For a space that pre-dates electricity, Old Sturbridge Village certainly uses a high quantity to educate their visitors. To curb cost the village hopes to build a 2-megawatt, 8- to 10-acre, 6,650-panel solar farm in a cleared field behind the museum, hidden from tourists and thus keeping the illusion of the past alive and well. The solar farm will generate up to 2.3 megawatts of power and provide the museum with 80 percent of its energy needs.

Whether internationally or right in our backyards, energy demands are high for landmarks used to living in the past. Fortunately, clean energy alternatives are being designed to fit in seamlessly with our most historic spaces and proving to be a smart step towards a sustainable future – one where we can enjoy both the original beauty and new-found efficiency of our cities and towns.