The Science Museum of Minnesota demonstrates the power of retrofiting

The Science Museum of Minnesota does more than inform audiences about climate change. It retrofitted its building to demonstrate that its possible for large complex facilities to dramatically cut their energy consumption. A more sustainable future is not possible without innovatively dropping the energy consumption of buildings since they account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use.

Large buildings, such the Science Museum’s, use great quantities of electricity which inevitably degrade into huge amounts of heat.  This heat must be managed, otherwise the interiors of these buildings would overheat.  Standard procedure is to treat this heat as waste and expel it from buildings.  Then other sources of energy are used to perform work that could have been accomplished with the discarded heat.

An energy analysis of the Science Museum in 2010 revealed that its annual electricity use eventually degraded into over 20 billion BTUs of heat energy.  As is common practice, the museum was expelling this heat from its building while purchasing 15 billion BTUs of heat energy each year.

Faced with this energy inefficiency, the Science Museum embarked on an advanced heat recovery retrofit of its building centered on the installation of two heat recovery chillers. These machines capture, move, and reuse heat energy that previously was being expelled from the museum as waste.  This project has realized both direct institutional and broader societal benefits:

  • The Science Museum’s investment of $900,000 on its advanced heat recovery project is yielding a savings of $300,000 annually.  Inspired by this result, the museum in 2017 subscribed to have 26 percent of its electricity supplied by solar energy for an additional savings of $40,000 a year. 
  • The advanced heat recovery project helped employ numerous factory workers, truckers, riggers, electricians, pipefitters, concrete workers, software technicians, and many other tradespeople to retrofit just one building over an 18-month period.
  • The advanced heat recovery project has cut by two million pounds annually the Science Museum’s emissions of carbon dioxide, which are driving climate change.
  • Every year now, numerous professionals take tours of the Science Museum’s advanced heat recovery project or learn about it through offsite presentations and online videos.  The museum itself has become a living demonstration of energy innovation. 

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are two of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.  As illustrated by the museum’s energy initiatives, imagine the economic, employment, environmental and educational opportunities that could be realized in the U.S. if the reality of climate change was broadly acknowledged and solutions widely pursued.

* The Science Museum’s statement on global climate change can be viewed at