Sometimes it’s the little things that get me excited, so I was absolutely thrilled when I recently read about the littlest thing of all: Zero…as in zero net energy. The drugstore chain Walgreen’s now has a store in Evanston, Illinois (home of the Northwestern Wildcats for you Big Ten fans) that produces as much energy as it uses, if not a little more. The store is something to behold, with nearly 850 solar panels producing 220,000 kilowatt-hours each year and a pair of wind turbines adding another 10,000. Not only is all the electricity renewable and carbon-free, but the store uses that clean energy super efficiently. They’ve installed LED lighting both inside and out with a dimming system that lowers light levels to take advantage of natural sunlight. They also have an ultra-high efficiency refrigeration system for drugs and food products that need to be kept cold and windows that open and close to take advantage of natural ventilation to hold down heating and cooling costs. And speaking of heating and cooling, those tasks – as well as hot water and refrigeration – are all performed by a geothermal heat pump, bringing up the earth’s natural energy to provide comfort on the surface.
Walgreen’s isn’t stopping with its Evanston store, either. They’re taking the lessons learned at that location and applying them to the designs of other zero net energy stores they’re building around the country. Walgreen’s is also making energy efficiency upgrades at many of its existing shops (since they’re drugstores, would those be “prescriptive” measures?) as part of its corporate sustainability strategy. You could say it’s just what the doctor ordered (OK, I’ll stop now).