Aquarium’s iconic blue wave is “going green”

For almost 30 years, the neon wave on the south side of the National Aquarium’s main building has been an iconic element of the Inner Harbor’s skyline, and a landmark sign in Baltimore.

But now, our blue wave is “going green”!

About a year ago, our capital planning and facilities teams began exploring what to do with the nearly 30-year-old neon wave because it had developed some very expensive maintenance issues. When it comes to evaluating building improvements and new projects, energy consumption and sustainability become very important parts of the design making process.  The team was already replacing many of the fluorescent and incandescent lights inside the buildings with light emitting diodes, or LEDs, to help the Aquarium reduce its energy consumption.

The neon wave is being replaced with the same technology, so in addition to resolving maintenance concerns, the LEDs will use 70% less energy than the neon it is replacing. With assistance from Ashton Design – one of the country’s premier graphics and signage designers – and the Aquarium’s electrical engineer, Kovacs Whitney, an LED product manufactured by General Electric was selected to replace the aging neon. Baltimore-based signage company Triangle Sign & Service is installing the new LED wave.  Triangle has manufactured and installed all of the signage and graphics in such well-known places as Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Fenway Park. And in their eyes, LED signs are the “wave” of the future.

Since the wave is such a signature part of our building and brand, it’s important to us that we keep this recognizable part of Baltimore’s nighttime skyline. The replacement wave will be the same size and shape, and will have the same visual effect. If anything, the new wave will boast a more vibrant blue than the original!

The neon lit up Baltimore’s skyline for the last time Tuesday night. Earlier this morning, just after sunrise when the sign turns off, contractors began taking down the neon, which is made up of 41 pieces totaling 350 linear feet. The iconic wave will return to Baltimore’s skyline in approximately three weeks for all to enjoy.

Aquarium leaders work diligently and creatively to pursue green practices that enable us to live the mission that guides our organization: to provide transforming experiences that inspire people to enjoy, respect and protect the aquatic world. This is one of the Aquarium’s many initiatives to reduce our energy consumption and make the best of the planet’s resources. Click here to learn more about the Aquarium’s green business efforts.


10 Responses to “Aquarium’s iconic blue wave is “going green””

  1. 1 Raven Fans August 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Please make the wave turn from blue to purple when we go to the Super Bowl!

  2. 3 John Anderson October 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    who did the numbers on this calculation? Blue neon is just over 3 watts per foot. It produces approximately 80 lumens per foot.

    GE Contour LED strips, from their own data sheet, consumes 3.81 watts per foot… more than the neon it is replacing!! And it produces only 19 lumens/ft.

    Sounds like “green” in this case may have been red.

  3. 4 National Aquarium October 27, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Our new LED wave was designed by a professional, licensed electrical engineer that has a great deal of knowledge of our existing systems. He calculated the energy reduction by comparing the actual electrical load (kW) of the 30-year-old neon wave system – based upon our annual operating hours – against the projected electrical load of the LED wave system (kW) – based upon manufacturer specifications and the same operating hours.

    The result was a reduction in annual load (kW) used, that when divided by the annual load (kW) of the original neon wave system resulted in a reduction of 70% of load.

    It should also be noted that the new LED wave system will save us $40,000 in annual repair cost for work that was being done to keep the old neon wave system functioning. And, the color of the LED is move vibrant and has greater visibility!

    • 5 Erik Gastelum November 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      Couple of questions “National Aquarium”

      Did GE Spec this job directly with Baltimore Aquarium, and Triangle just do the install?

      Can you also provide the original or marketed Energy numbers?

      How can I contact this licensed engineer?

      I’m assuming because of the Baltimore cold weather the old neon was a 60ma system, if so the neon would have been 7 watts per foot and right around 2,500 watts, giving the GE contour a nearly 40% reduction over neon. BUT, it would have been WAY less expensive to re-retrofit the old neon to a rare-earth phosphor coated lamps and re-engineer for a proper installation and correct loading. The sign neon would stay brighter longer over time and keeping it’s brilliance.

      The upfront costs on just materials alone for the GE contour is over $8k (going easy), Neon materials $3k (both without labor). For this lighting to be lit 12 hours a day, 365 days a year you’re only saving $462 a year over a 60ma neon system. Savings versus initial investment alone without labor, you are looking at a 10+ ROI. By the time 5-7 years comes this aquarium is going to be looking at another re-retrofit of the LEDs, just like the CITGO sign.

      National Aquarium, if you can please email me the engineer I’d love to talk with them. GE won’t even return emails or inquiries on this job on how 70% is saved.


      Erik Gastelum
      The Sign

  4. 6 John Anderson October 27, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Everyone appreciates the efforts by the National Aquarium to upgrade an old installation most have appreciated viewing over the years.

    The reason this is generating so much interest, is a leading sign trade magazine published it’s cover story on the Nat. Aquarium’s replacement of neon. Many folks who work in that field found the numbers quoted for energy savings odd.

    The old neon consisted of 41pcs of neon, totaling 350 ft. On an older style traditional power supply – properly loaded – this installation should consume approx 1173 watts.

    Blue GE Tetra Contour’s product specifications (3.39 watts/ft) bring that installation to 1186 watts.

    The neon was likely made locally, in Maryland. It has been replaced with a product made overseas that actually consumes slightly more energy per foot, and produces (according to their own data sheet) considerably fewer lumens for the power used.

    If a licensed engineer really came up with these figures, then I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, however the numbers quoted do not sync with experience in the industry. Also, $40,000 per year to maintain 41 pcs of neon? The trade magazine quoted “7000-8000” dollars per year, quoting Bob Nethan of Triangle Sign who did the installation.

  5. 7 Hanns Pinkau October 27, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Greetings National Aquarium from Germany!

    This project generated a bit of “buzz” on our side of the ocean as well. Should check figures again. Neon (we call cold cathode) is very energy efficient. LED stip lights used here are made by Philips, but have similar specification. For color blue, cold cathode generates far more light than LEDs. A very “green” lightsource. For color red, LED’s do a little better.

    At any rate, the aquarium wave looks very nice (both the old, and the new)!

    Kind regards!

    Munich, Germany
    ZeterLight, GmbH

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