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How Disney Saves Energy and Operating Costs

Jan. 1, 2005
Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., is among the most highly visited places on earth. Its consists of hundreds of buildings that include world-class

Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., is among the most highly visited places on earth. Its “campus” consists of hundreds of buildings that include world-class hotel and conference centers, exotic ride environments, and precisely controlled spaces for horticulture and animal care.

In addition to a Wall-Street eye on the bottom line, Walt Disney himself encoded the company's DNA with an ethic toward conserving natural resources and the environment that remains to this day as a program called Environmentality. Environmentality is a way of thinking, acting, and doing business in an environmentally conscientious way — from saving energy and water to reducing waste and emissions.

At Disney, energy is paramount. Air-conditioning, refrigeration, compressed-air, and water-moving systems for buildings, rides, and transportation run primarily on electricity and natural gas. To maximize energy conservation and efficiency while minimizing costs and emissions, Walt Disney World has implemented a state-of-the-art energy-management program (EMP) that can serve as a role model to owners and administrators of public and private facilities.

This article will describe the EMP at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and discusses its results in terms of energy and cost savings. Perhaps in doing so, it will inspire other facility owners to develop their own EMPs and cultivate the economic, energy, and environmental benefits that Disney has.


The cornerstone of the Disney EMP is its strong partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the EPA Energy Star Buildings program, which has five main components:

  • Building tune-up (recommissioning).
  • Energy-efficient lighting (Green Lights).
  • Load reductions.
  • Fan-system upgrades.
  • Heating- and cooling-system upgrades.

The partnership between Walt Disney World and the Energy Star Buildings program was established in 1996, when Disney implemented the EPA Green Lights program across 17 million sq ft of facilities. This was completed in 1998 and resulted in annual electrical savings of 46 million kwh. Also in 1998, Walt Disney World Co. began the implementation of numerous cost-effective energy-saving projects.

Disney's projects included:

  • Optimizing compressed-air-system controls.

  • Upgrading hot-water-boiler controls.

  • Retrofitting variable-speed drives into air, pumping, and chilled-water systems.

  • Retrofitting demand-controlled ventilation into convention-center spaces.

  • Upgrading and integrating energy-management systems (EMS), including one EMS vendor's stand-alone EMS to centralized network-based servers.

  • Installing utility-submetering systems in the facilities of operating participants (non-Disney companies working on Disney property) for utility-cost recovery.

In aggregate, the efforts Disney has undertaken since 1996 have resulted in a 53-percent internal rate of return (IRR) and metered annual reductions of approximately 100 million kwh of electricity and 1 million therms of natural gas.


Disney's EMP has three main components: the EMSs that are installed in each building or facility; the energy-information system (EIS), which is a suite of information technologies that works with the EMS to provide data and information to energy managers and other stakeholders; and Disney staff (called “cast members”), who collectively participate in the EMP. It's the combination of technology and people that makes the EMP successful and sustainable.

Each of these main components will be described, followed by an example of how they work together in the building-tune-up (BTU) process.


An EMS performs real-time monitoring and control of the HVAC and lighting systems in a building. The parameters of greatest interest are temperature and humidity setpoints and equipment-operating-time schedules, including those for lighting.

Over the years, Disney has installed a variety of EMSs from different vendors, which it continues to operate. One vendor's system controlled more than 80 percent of the installed EMS base. This system recently was upgraded to a centralized server-based system connected to the corporate Ethernet-based intranet. This upgrade was very cost-effective and accomplished entirely with in-house staff.

The EMS upgrade enables operators and managers to have access to equipment, schedulers, data, and information through the corporate intranet (Figure 1), which has the following benefits:

  • Reviews of EMS field-panel programming and real-time operation can be made globally through any desktop computer on the corporate network.

  • EMS programs and data are stored on network servers that are maintained by the Walt Disney World Information Services group. Backups are made daily.

  • A program residing on the network servers automatically resets equipment time clocks and setpoint schedules on a daily basis.

  • Data from EMS points and utility meters can be collected and used by the EIS for quick and easy display.

This upgrade also provided a standard and stable hardware and software platform for Disney's EMS. The procurement methodology is described in the sidebar, “Disney's EMS Strategy.”


The philosophy, “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” is critical to a sustainable EMP. Measurement for management is the job of the EIS.

The EIS is a suite of programs and computers that collect data from the EMS and other sources and churn them into actionable information for use by operators and managers. Essentially, the EIS measures energy at the facility level and tracks the results of BTU efforts over time.

Continuous feedback on utility performance pinpoints problems in the EMS that need attention. Such feedback also drives Disney's incentive program, which keeps people actively seeking to reduce consumption and expenses without creating new problems, such as degrading indoor-air quality or comfort.

Disney created their own Web-based EIS that uses an off-the-shelf database-management system to store the vast amount of collected energy data. Custom software, called the Utility Reporting System (URS), resides on a network server. The URS gathers, stores, and processes monthly-utility-bill data and hourly meter data from a variety of data-collection sources. URS reports are created in Web-accessible (HTML) formats and can be reached via the Disney intranet.

One popular feature of the URS is a “report-card” format for publishing utility data and historical information. The report card is distributed via e-mail on a monthly basis, with each message containing high-level (summary) information and hyperlinks allowing “point-and-click” access to greater detail. Some links are to graphs that compare current data to data from up to 12 previous months. Also, data can be filtered to compare one Disney area against others. For example, how is Epcot performing relative to Disney's Animal Kingdom? Such comparisons stoke a healthy spirit of competition among area managers.

The report-card format is intuitive and the drill-down and sorting capabilities are easy to use by everyone — so much so, that a URC program was created for the Orange County School District by the Florida Solar Energy Center, which is highlighted in the accompanying sidebar.

Specialized reports are used to monitor and report utility usage by operating participants in Disney facilities, which helps to keep them aware of their usage rates. By measuring actual energy consumption instead of a square foot allocation, operating participants are motivated to manage their energy usage to keep their utility expenses low. At the same time, Walt Disney World is able to recover utility expenses used by the operating participants in a fair and accurate way.


Everyone has a role to play in the Disney EMP. There is a dedicated staff of energy-conservation engineers and technicians who orchestrate the EMP, champion energy-conservation efforts, and keep the program moving forward by refining the EIS, EMS, and other program components.

Executive management supports the EMP by authorizing programs that affect staff and providing a budget sufficient to getting meaningful work done. New projects are considered based on their expected IRR. The higher the IRR, the better the chance of securing funds for implementation.

Disney also recognizes that cast members need to be involved in the EMP to establish a facilitywide sense of ownership and accountability for energy usage. Through employee-awareness programs, Disney cultivates Environmentality instead of dictating it.

Two employee programs work together to make the EMP a success. The first is the Energy Star Team meeting, which provides an avenue for continuous training and involvement. The second is the Energy Star Awards, which provides incentives. The two programs create a positive and productive culture for managing energy.

Energy Star Team meetings

Cast members who participate in the Walt Disney World EMP are part of the Energy Star Team. The Energy Star Team meets on a monthly basis and includes staff from the parks, resorts, and support areas.

The meetings provide a great opportunity to share and discuss best practices and learn of vendors' energy-saving products. If someone wants to try a technology in his or her area, the product will be installed and metered in one of his or herbuildings (some areas have more than one building). If it works, it can be rolled out to the entire property.

The Energy Star Team meetings also provide a good venue for providing on-going training to operators of the EMS and EIS.

Energy Star Awards

The Energy Star Awards program was developed to increase the awareness of energy usage among Disney management and cast members. It works by recognizing and rewarding successful energy-conservation efforts and demonstrates that energy conservation can be simple and fun.

Because utility-meter information is readily available in URS, a report was developed to provide feedback on how well each area is doing relative to prior-year usage. For example, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Contemporary Resort are all separately tracked and reported.

A spirit of competition is created by ranking each area based on percent change from the prior year. The areas with the greatest reductions rise to the top of the list. The awards recognize those areas that are at the top and identifies those areas on the bottom as being in need of improvement.

Each year, a report is generated to show the award winners. Details on the award winners' accomplishments are highlighted in Disney's corporate Environmentality report, Enviroport. No one stands to benefit financially from the EMP. Recognition for doing a good job has been the only incentive needed.


The BTU or recommissioning step in the Energy Star Buildings program has been very cost-effective for Disney. The BTU process concentrates on optimizing the operation of EMS and generally results in a 5-to 20-percent reduction in utility usage in a very cost-effective manner. Disney's savings attributed to the BTU process have been approximately equal to the savings resulting from its Green Lights program, but at a fraction of the cost (Figure 2).

At the start of a BTU effort, teams are formed from the engineering and operations departments to review the building and EMS control devices, programming, and settings. The BTU process typically results in the following:

  • Optimized time schedules and setpoints.

  • Improved EMS performance through refinements of programming and documentation.

  • A list of corrective actions identified by monitoring HVAC operations.

  • Measured utility savings using URS.

The BTU process is simple and can be started at anytime with the organization of a BTU team. BTU teams are facilitated by an energy-management engineer with support from facility-engineering and building operations-and-maintenance departments.

Initially, 1-hr meetings are held once a week. This may not seem like much time, but a slow and steady pace is best for this type of work. Most of the detailed work is spent between the weekly meetings in the review and documention of the EMS control sequences, setoints, and time schedules. Each building and each HVAC system is evaluated one system at a time until all of the systems have been reviewed and everything is working properly.


The key to a successful BTU program is to manage the details. To help with that effort, Disney uses two custom software tools that work together to keep EMS settings intact: Facility Time Schedule (FTS) and Building Tune Up System (BTUS).

The FTS program manages equipment time schedules and temperature setpoints in a central database. Because time schedules and setpoints can be changed from their optimal settings and not set back, the FTS was created to reset them on a daily basis automatically.

BTUS is a Web-based program that allows users to view EMS control settings without accessing the EMS. Critical parameters of EMS operation are stored in a relational database. A Web-accessible program displays the information via a Web browser. The BTUS shows:

  • HVAC equipment and the area serviced, providing color-coded floor plans.

  • Equipment time schedules and setpoints.

  • Action items for each HVAC system.

  • Links to EMS trend graphs and historical data.


Environmentality is part of the way of life at Walt Disney World Resort. EMPs are good for the environment and make good business sense.

The Disney EMP began through a partnership with the well-established Energy Star Buildings program, which is available at

Disney adopted Energy Star and then tailored it by integrating commercial EMSs with a custom EIS. This technology-based solution is used throughout the Disney World organization by executive managers, members of the engineering, operations, and maintenance staffs; and other cast members.

This combination of people and technology has resulted in a successful and sustainable EMP at Walt Disney World. As the resort continues to expand, these programs will continue to play an important role in reducing energy costs in both new and existing facilities.


Turner, W.D. (2004). Continuous commissioning in energy conservation programs. Downloaded from on Dec. 20, 2004.

U.S. EPA Office of Air and Radiation. (May 1998). ENERGY STAR buildings upgrade manual-Stage 2 Building Tune-Up. U.S. EPA report number 6202J EPA 430-B-97-024B.

For HPAC Engineering feature articles dating back to January 1992, visit

Paul Allen, PE, is the chief energy-management engineer at Reedy Creek Energy Services, a division of Walt Disney World Co., and responsible for the development and implementation of energy-conservation projects throughout Walt Disney World Resort. In November 2003, he was inducted into the Association of Energy Engineers Hall of Fame. He can be contacted at [email protected].


In a public-service announcement recorded while he was the honorary chairman of National Wildlife Week, Walt Disney defined “conservation” and thereby set the tone for Walt Disney's Environmentality ethic:

“ You've probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us. It's a science whose principles are written in the oldest code in the world, the laws of nature. The natural resources of our vast continent are not inexhaustible. But if we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come.”

Disney's EMS Strategy

With one single-vendor EMS controlling nearly 80 percent of Disney's facility systems, and based on in-house capabilities involving controls and information technology, Disney bucked the multivendor interoperability trend by standardizing to one EMS (i.e., one manufacturer). This begs the question of how Disney keeps procurement competitive. Here's how:

During a procurement effort, Disney will:

  • Design the EMS controls as part of the construction documents. This includes details on EMS-panel wire lists, interconnections, and mounting details.

  • Prescriptively specify every detail of the system so there is absolutely no doubt what will be installed and how it will be installed.

  • Describe exactly how the EMS is networked on the construction documents.

  • Competitively bid the installation of the wire, conduit, sensors, and actuators.

In Disney's design, the temperature-controls contractor is responsible for installing all of the end devices and pull all the control wires (properly labeled) back into the EMS control panels. Everything inside the EMS panel is “owner-furnished.” Disney also will terminate, program, and start the system or hire a contractor familiar with the EMS vendor's products for this task.

With this methodology, Disney can competitively bid the EMS while also standardizing to one EMS.

Furthermore, the vendor's EMS has a proprietary protocol, which is not “open,” as LonWorks and BACnet are. Standardizing on one EMS-vendor's system minimizes the importance of the EMS protocol used. Disney considers the ability to design, install, program, create graphics, and continuously improve the EMS in-house the most important feature.

For Disney, this methodology has worked well because it knows exactly what it is getting. There are no surprises and in the end, it all works, which is the important thing.

Disney Goes to School

Walt Disney World participated in a public/private effort to develop an energy-information system, called Utility Report Cards (URC), to help Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools (OCPS) better manage energy costs. The URC program was based on the energy-information-system methods and techniques developed at Walt Disney World. The URC is a Web-based energy-information system that reports and graphs monthly utility data for schools.

Each month, a Web-based report is automatically generated and e-mailed to OCPS staff members as encouragement to examine their school's electricity usage (energy efficiency) and to identify schools needing further investigation. URC also is intended for teachers and students to use as an instructional tool to learn about energy use as a complement to energy-education materials available through the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergySmart Schools program. To run URC, go to and click on “URC Live.”

URC was created to help OCPS staff members understand and, therefore, manage their utility consumption and associated costs. The URC allows school staff members to become aware of how their school is performing relative to the prior year and to other schools of similar design and capacity. Giving recognition to schools that improve performance from prior-year levels could create a spirit of competition. Those schools identified as high energy users become the focus of attention to determine the reasons for their consumption level and ultimately to decrease the energy used. All of this is done by using the monthly utility data that is provided electronically at minimal or no cost by the utilities.

For more information, refer to the Engineering Green Buildings column “Grading Schools With Utility Report Cards,” by Paul Allen, et. al. in the July 2004 issue of HPAC Engineering, or visit

Disney Saves Water, Too

An audit of water usage throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom revealed new strategies for saving money and enhancing best practices. A temporary metering system installed for restaurants, restrooms, and aquatic environments for animals allowed cast members to monitor water flow in multiple sites without incurring traditional costs associated with permanent devices. Results indicated that in some areas, less water would produce the same effect. Combined efforts to reduce water consumption throughout the park have resulted in savings of 145 million gal of water per year, a reduction of 22 percent.