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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Solar Energy at Walt Disney World and Vero Beach

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney World has always tried to be environmentally innovative. In terms of solar power, Epcot’s Universe of Energy pavilion (now closed) was designed and constructed with two acres of solar panels on the roof to partially provide power for the attraction when it first opened in 1982.

In April 2018, the Disney Company started building a giant new solar farm in Walt Disney World in collaboration with Reedy Creek Improvement District and solar developer Origis Energy USA. The 270-acre, 50-megawatt solar facility is expected to be able to generate enough clean renewable energy to power two of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks.

(C) Disney

During peak sun hours, the solar power is estimated to provide 25% of the Walt Disney World resort’s entire power needs, or roughly 120,000 megawatt hours of power. According to Disney, the solar farm includes over a half million solar panels. Switching to solar power will reduce Disney’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 57,000 tons per year. That’s equal to taking 9,300 automobiles off the roads.

Construction for the huge 270 acre facility was on a site near Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The existing “Hidden Mickey” Epcot solar farm is a mere 22 acres by comparison.

That Epcot facility is operated by Duke Energy as part of a fifteen year agreement and is made up of 48,000 solar panels in the shape of a classic three-circled Mickey Mouse head. It generates five megawatt hours of power.   WDW already buys some power from Duke.

In 2010, thirty solar panels were installed to heat water used in the guest rooms, two restaurants and other common areas at the main building at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.

Water flowing through copper tubes embedded inside the solar panels is heated by the sun, decreasing the need for propane. The system is similar to one installed in 2008 to heat water in the Costuming building at the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Nutrition Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

“We were excited to be able to test the thermal solar panels first at the two Cast Member locations,” said Paul Allen, chief Energy Management engineer at Reedy Creek Energy Services. “The test was successful and water is still being heated by the sun at these locations. We were thrilled that the team at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort wanted to expand this program by installing the panels at their resort.

“While there are many photovoltaic solar panels on property, the panels in use at the two Cast locations and now Disney’s Vero Beach are our first thermal hot water-solar installations.”

The intention was that the solar panels should help significantly reduce the resort’s propane costs.

“The propane system is still in place, but it is only used as a backup to automatically provide hot water if demand exceeds availability,” said Steve Boll who headed Engineering Services at Vero Beach. “We have estimated the amount of solar hot water produced to be about 40 percent of total hot water needs for the main building.”

Additional efforts at the resort include the installation of heat-pipe systems, upgrades to guest room thermostats and energy-management-system controls. The heat-pipe system was installed on two air-conditioning units to provide a more energy-efficient way to dehumidify the air in the main building.

The new guest thermostats automatically set the temperature back to temperatures specified by the Disney company energy policies when guests are not in the room. Upgraded energy-management controls were installed on several large air-conditioning systems serving the resort’s meeting spaces and restaurants to improve guest comfort and energy savings.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.


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