I’ve never been to Paris, but I would recognize the Eiffel Tower anywhere.
I don’t think I’m alone here. Whether it’s the charm of an old city or the influence of Hollywood, Americans are fascinated by Paris and its most iconic image. Google (a U.S.-based company) even celebrated the Eiffel Tower’s 126th birthday on March 31st, 2015 with a commemorative Doodle.
The Eiffel Tower already attracts more visitors than any other paid tourist attraction in the world, and with this latest move, Paris is proving that they’re committed to keeping the Eiffel Tower around for future generations.
The Eiffel Tower is going green.
Not literally, of course—the Tower maintains its metallic lattice appearance—but it’s been retrofitted with some impressively energy-conscious technology. And that’s one huge win for champions of green energy.
The first phase of improvements was completed in 2014, and included modifying the position of glass panels to reduce energy loss in air-conditioned rooms; installing solar panels, which will meet 50% of the Tower’s hot water needs; adding a rainwater collection system to supply the restrooms; and using LED lighting.
But the latest move is a far more visual sign of an environmentally-conscious Paris. This year, the Eiffel Tower welcomed the installation of two vertical-axis wind turbines. These turbines are now located on the second floor of the Tower, where wind conditions are most favorable. According to Urban Green Energy (UGE) (the American company that conducted the installation) the turbines are virtually silent, and designed to capture wind from any direction. They are also capable of generating 10,000 kWh of electricity ever year, which is enough to supply energy to all of the commercial areas on the Tower’s first floor.
The rest of the Tower’s energy already comes from offsite renewable sources, so the addition of wind turbines is a visual reminder of ongoing green energy efforts.
Switching the Eiffel Tower to clean power is a small change that won’t directly affect the day-to-day lives of Parisians. But the impact can’t be denied: Having this visual representation of a city’s commitment to clean power is critical, as it will be seen by the millions of tourists who visit Paris every year. The Eiffel Tower, a symbol of beauty, will be connecting beauty to sustainability, and it will be easier for other cities to follow in Paris’s footsteps.
Paris is making more than just an emblematic gesture towards environmental sustainability: all of these changes are in line with the region’s 2012 Climate, Air and Energy Action Plan to improve energy efficiency and reduce urban heating and emissions from road traffic.
Countrywide initiatives are also in the works, with France recently passing a new law requiring all rooftops on new commercial buildings to be partially covered in plants or solar panels. So-called green roofs are great for insulation and reducing energy usage, as well as decreasing the urban heat island effect, providing a space for wildlife, and naturally filtering out air pollutants.
Of course, France’s environmental efforts lag far behind those of other European countries like Germany, which gets over a quarter of its energy from renewable sources, and is aiming for 60% by the year 2035.
But between the Eiffel Tower’s makeover, Paris’s environmental goals, and France’s new law for commercial buildings, the French are clearly trying to balance their “Old World” image with a side of innovation and environmental consciousness. And that’s a great thing leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, where nations will try (again) to reach a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Whatever happens at those meetings, the renovated Eiffel Tower should be a reminder that green tech is not only compatible with history and tradition, but can also renew our appreciation for it—as long as there are real commitments to back up these symbols.
Katherine Manchester is an international development professional, with roots in Maine and Tanzania. She has written about issues of environmental sustainability and gender. For fun, she enjoys reading and messing around in sailboats.