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November 27, 2012

National Zoo Carousel Puts a 'New Spin' on Solar Energy, Conservation



The Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel – one of the only solar-powered carousels in the world – is now open and ready to take visitors for a whirl at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The 162 solar panels that drive the carousel were donated and installed by the region’s electric utility, Pepco Energy Services. Any excess energy is diverted back to the Zoo’s electrical grid.

An interactive digital dashboard, also provided by Pepco, enables visitors to see how the carousel generates and uses solar energy in real time. A touchscreen display translates the energy saved by the solar array into more familiar terms, such as the number of trees saved, the hours of video games that could be played or the cups of coffee that could be brewed with the same amount of power.

Using the dashboard, visitors also will be able to see how much energy the carousel has saved cumulatively since its debut.


Left, a giant panda, Baltimore oriole and a red-eyed tree frog on the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel. (Credit: Devin Murphy/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The funding for the carousel was largely provided by the New Jersey based, family-administered Speedwell Foundation – which donated $1.5 million of the $2.3 million required to build the attraction.

The zoo ensured that the ride would serve a triple purpose: entertainment, education and environmentalism. Even as visitors learn about solar energy, they’re also being made more conscious of the peril in which many species find themselves. The Conservation Carousel features 58 hand-carved and painted animals, many representing endangered species that zoo scientists and animal care experts have spent years studying, breeding or working to reintroduce to the wild.

The animals spin past scenery panels depicting scenes from forest, grassland, savannah and aquatic habitats. Decorative panels, each featuring a different migratory bird species, adorn the top of the carousel. The detailed artwork celebrates animals living at the zoo, as well as at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and in the mid-Atlantic region.

“First and foremost, the carousel is a great attraction for the whole family,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “But I’m hoping that the riders will be inspired by the conservation messages. Some of the gorgeous animals reflect the great conservation success stories of our time while others represent animals we are racing to save.”

Tickets for the Conservation Carousel are $3. It is open during regular zoo hours and during ZooLights, powered by Pepco, the annual holiday lights festival hosted by Friends of the National Zoo.

All proceeds from the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel support animal care and conservation science initiatives at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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