In the Spotlight: Walgreens Net Zero Energy Store

Walgreens provided an up-close look at its new location in Evanston, Ill. — distinguished as the nation’s first net zero energy store — during a super-session at this year’s SPECS conference. Initial engineering estimates — which can vary due to the weather, store operations, systems performance and other factors — indicate that the store will use 200,000 kilowatt hours per year of electricity while generating 220,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“Our goal is for the store to generate more energy than it uses,” said Jamie Meyers, manager of sustainability, Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill.

Speaking at the session, “An Industry First: Walgreens’ Net Zero Energy Store,” Meyers told attendees that the drug store chain had previously used or experimented with many of the technologies deployed in the net zero energy store. But Evanston marked the first time the chain had put them all under one roof.

“We want to learn as much as we can from this store, and share what we learn,” Meyers said. “We’re going to analyze everything.”

The store, which opened in November, is a replacement for an old Walgreens that was built on the same site. When the Walgreens team decided to go ahead with the net zero energy project, the Evanston locale proved ideal as the town is very progressive when it comes to green building, Meyers explained.

“The original store was scheduled to be knocked down, which meant we had less than 14 months to design, knock down [the old store] and build the new store,” he added.

One of the first things Meyers and his team did was bring in a solar developer. (Solar is the primary renewable energy source for the store.) “We covered the building with solar panels in order to maximize solar production,” he said. “We even put a canopy over the pharmacy drive-though.”

To help maximize daylighting, the roof plane of the building was broken up into four planes, with each plane facing directly south. Windows were placed in between the planes. And to provide as much roof space as possible for the solar panels (there are nearly 850 in all), all the major equipment is housed in a mechanical mezzanine that is open to public view.

Other elements that contribute to the building’s energy efficiency include the use of directional LED lighting, a geothermal system burrowed 550 ft. into the ground and a high-efficiency curtain wall system. The store also utilizes carbon dioxide refrigerant for refrigeration equipment as well as heating and cooling. The system uses a geothermal carbon dioxide heat pump to capture heat generated by the store’s refrigeration systems, with the hot air used for heating.

“We are recovering 100% of our refrigeration load,” Meyers said.

A large energy monitor is prominently located upfront, next to the cash register.

“It shows how we are doing with regard to energy production and consumption,” Meyers said.

Meyers noted that the store opened just before what would turn out to be the Chicago area’s third coldest winter on record since 1884. While the extreme cold forced the store to run at maximum capacity, it has performed well considering the harsh conditions.

In the few months since the store opened, Meyers said the biggest surprise has been the number of people, ranging from other retailers to customers to local school groups, that want to tour it.

“It’s generating a lot of interest,” Meyers said.

More than an actual store prototype, the Evanston store will serve as a testing ground, allowing Walgreens to determine what technology it can take and apply to new and existing locations. For example, it has already started rolling out LEDs to all new stores, inside and out, across the United States.

“We want to use the Evanston store as a model for what we do going forward,” Meyers said. “The real payback will be when we take the technology and apply it back to our footprint.”

It will take a full year of operation to get an accurate read on the store’s net zero energy status, but Meyers is optimistic based on its early performance.

“We are trending toward net zero for the year,” he said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. We are learning every day.”

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