Walt Disney World is known for its expansive theme parks packed with rides that have been entertaining millions of visitors for nearly 50 years. While the parks have maintained their original look and feel over the decades, there have also been a few green upgrades behind the scenes. With the celebration of Earth Day this month, Dr. Mark Penning, the Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment at Disney Parks and Resorts announced that the most recent addition to the iconc destination will be a giant new solar facility.
Located right in the middle of the Sunshine State, Walt Disney World’s decision to harness the sun’s energy is a natural step towards energy efficiency, since the Orlando area receives on average over 300 sunny days out of the year. The 50-megawatt facility will include no less than 500,000 solar panels to soak in all that sunlight.
The new facility will come to life with the help of solar project developer Origis Energy USA and the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The team will break ground near Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the next few months, and the project should be completed by the end of the year.
The solar facility will span over 270 acres and generate enough renewable, clean energy to power two of Disney’s theme parks in Central Florida. With up to 25 percent of Disney’s power needs met through this solar energy, the company will be able to lower their annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 57,000 tons. That’s like taking 9,300 cars off the roads every year.
The project will also focus on conservation efforts and help stop the decline of almost a dozen threatened species. Pulling together Disney’s Animals, Science, Environment and Horticulture pros, this new solar facility will be designed as “pollinator friendly, with rich wildflowers and vegetation, creating a safe and welcoming habitat for butterflies, bees and other insects.”
While adding solar technology on a massive scale might sound like a perfect feature for the likes of Tomorrowland, this is not the first time the company turns to the sun for a boost of energy. In fact, the Disney’s Bonita Tower hotel in Disneyland was the first hotel building in the U.S. to have a solar water heating system back in the 70s.
Disney also uses solar energy in Castaway Cay, their sun drenched property in the Caribbean, to heat water on the island. A more recent solar installation was the hidden facility near Epcot, where 48,000 panels were laid out in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head.
When they’re not busy looking for ways to harness their endless supply of sunshine, the company is working on other initiatives to educate their guests about going green. At Epcot’s Land Pavilion, park visitors can sign up for a guided walking tour through Disney’s mega greenhouses. Aptly named Behind the Seeds, this tour unveils how much of the resort's food is grown and harvested on the property.
Guests looking for a quicker crash course on Disney’s futuristic food production can sail through the greenhouses on the Living with the Land boat ride, which gives a quick overview of the aquaponic fish farms and hydroponic plants Disney manages as part of their sustainable growing program. All of these eco-friendly efforts help The Walt Disney Company inch closer to its goal to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020.