Minnesota History Center Reduces Energy by over 50%

The Minnesota History Center is noteworthy for many things, from great exhibits to exciting programs.  However, in 2005, it was also noteworthy as being the highest energy consumer on the State Capitol Complex.  Since then, major mechanical system and lighting upgrades have reduced the energy usage by over 50%. Today, the building no longer holds that record and is now using less energy than most office buildings in the region.  The graph below illustrates this change over time in KBTU/SF, combined energy use per square foot of the building.  

These major reductions were made through a number of different projects over the years.  Beginning in 2008, there were several major mechanical system components that were upgraded, including a new building automation system. Most of the changes addressed equipment that were already outdated and nearing end-of-life.  This timing was an opportunity to enhance performance and find more efficient versions of the same equipment. In addition, the project also included the building automation system (BAS) that would enhance building engineers capacity to operate the building efficiently.  Altogether, the project reduced energy usage by 20% (see table below).

Total Cost

Pre-Project MBTU Annual

Post-Project MBTU Annual

% Change

$2,300,000 92,514 74,705 -19.25%

After the major equipment upgrades, a recommissioning project helped to optimize the system operations. With more energy efficient equipment and enhanced control capacity, facilities staff were able to work with engineers to find new ways of optimizing how these components worked together to heat and cool the building. One key example included the summer shut down of boilers and using “free heat” or waste heat from the cooling system to take care of the heating needs; this is due to the dehumidification requirements of our building and collections, which requires some additional reheat to maintain temperatures while achieving dryer conditions.  The recommissioning process is highly effective and reduced our energy usage by over 30% (see table below).  These types of projects are also very helpful to undertake every few years as operations and occupancy of buildings change.  

Total Cost

Pre-Project MBTU Annual

Post-Project MBTU Annual

% Change

$110,000 68,395 45,943 -32.83%

 Image 1: Our building engineer with one of our boilers. 

More recently, In 2014, a major lighting upgrade throughout the building was completed.  This included LED light fixtures in offices, public spaces, and circulation spaces. The upgrade was timed with the obsolescence of many of the office lights.  Lighting designers replaced the inefficient lights from old fixtures with new low energy LED fixtures.  These fixtures not only operate with less energy, but distribute light in a more volumetric shape, reducing glare and creating better lighting conditions for staff and visitors.   

In addition to the energy efficiency efforts, the History Center also engages in waste and water reduction projects.  In particular, our waste program diverts much of waste to recycling - we recycled over half a million pounds of paper in the last 5 years and over 113,000 bottles.  Organic waste from the cafe goes to a local Minnesota hog farm.  In the last 5 years, we have sent over 150 tons of food waste to the farm.  

 Image 2: there are no waste bins in the cafe; staff sort the types of waste coming in through the conveyor system in order to divert organics for compost and recyclables.  

To find out more and stay updated about our energy, waste, and water initiatives, visit our our blog.