Theme park operator Disneyland Paris has revealed that it is considering building a massive solar power plant which would supply 15% of the electricity at its sprawling site on the outskirts of Paris.
It follows the recent opening of a similar facility at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which is expected to generate enough renewable energy to power two of the four theme parks there. In contrast, Disneyland Paris only has two parks – its eponymous flagship and the movie-themed Walt Disney Studios. However, that’s just the start.
The resort also includes eight on-site hotels, two convention centers, a 27-hole golf course and a 44,000-square-meter shopping and dining district. It covers a total of 5,510 acres though only around half of that land has been developed since Disneyland Paris opened its doors in 1992. There is good reason for this.
One of the factors that fuelled Disney’s decision to locate its European outpost in Paris is that it was offered far more land there than the space which its theme parks sit on. Disney needed the land so that it could maintain standards throughout the entire resort from the parks to the surrounding hotels and even the roads and nature reserves.
Its strategy stems from when Walt Disney himself bought land for Disneyland in California and soon after it opened in 1955 motels and restaurants began springing up next door spoiling the fantasy theming of the resort.
To prevent a repeat of this in France, Disney selected a vast plot of land which is almost a fifth the size of Paris. It was originally home to five villages and huge beet fields which the French government had earmarked for development. The plan was frozen following the 1973 oil crisis but was put back on the drawing board with a wave of a magic wand. Disney got what what it wanted but it came with a catch.
The French government agreed to sell the land to Disney provided that the majority of it was developed in accordance with its own vision. To ensure that it benefits the local area, and isn’t rushed through, the government sells land to Disney in phases once previous plots have been completed.
Disney isn’t under pressure to develop the land as its agreement with the government runs until 2030. At that point Disney could sign the final development phase which would give it a further ten years of breathing room.
In February Disneyland Paris unveiled its biggest-ever expansion which will see its American parent invest $2.3 billion (€2 billion) in the Studios park. A dramatic renovation of the resort’s shopping and dining district is also believed to be in the works as we revealed in March.
The Studios expansion involves an existing part of the park being themed to Disney’s Marvel Comics subsidiary whilst new areas inspired by Star Wars and hit animated film Frozen will be added by 2025.
The new areas will be built on a 77 acre plot of land which is being acquired by Disney as part of its agreement with the French government. The Mouse has kept local residents fully informed about it through a roadshow and public consultation documents which give fascinating insight into the plans.
The documents reveal that Disneyland Paris has “initiated the steps to develop a park of photovoltaic panels on the visitor parking to generate 33 Gigawatt hours (Gwh) per year representing around 15% of the electrical energy currently consumed. This project is however subject to the agreement of the Regulation Energy Commission.”
The plan to build a solar power plant at Disneyland Paris has been on the drawing board for a long time. We first revealed it in British newspaper The Independent in 2010 and the details haven’t changed much since then.
Disneyland Paris’ management was initially considering covering its main car park with canopies which would be coated in solar cells and would also collect rainwater. This would reduce water consumption whilst the solar energy would be used on-site or sold back into the grid.
The current plan purely focuses on solar power and seems to stand a better chance of proceeding than before. The resort now has even more of an emphasis on the development of clean energy and the solar power project is fully aligned with this commitment to sustainability.
Five years ago Disneyland Paris opened a waste water treatment and recycling plant making it the only European theme park with this kind of facility. Every minute it produces around 1,389 liters of recycled water which is used for street cleaning as well as filling the resort’s waterways, irrigation system and the cooling towers of its power plant. It has cast a powerful spell.
According to Disneyland Paris, the plant has helped to save more than 1.1 million cubic meters of water which is equivalent to the annual consumption of 7,384 French families. It doesn’t stop there.
Last year Disneyland Paris swung open the doors to a 440 acre eco-resort, called Villages Nature, in partnership with France’s leading vacation apartment rental company Pierre et Vacances. It is home to more than 900 apartments and according to the consultation documents, “the fiscal impact of Villages Nature is estimated at €7 million [$7.9 million] a year.”
Guests are attracted by the woodland setting and sprawling lagoon underneath a soaring glass pavillion. However, the real magic is behind the scenes. During the construction of the resort Disney drilled nearly 2,000 meters into the ground to tap into geothermal energy and has been using it since February this year. It has paid off.
According to the consultation documents, “Disneyland Paris uses this energy from Villages Nature Paris, one of our Disney hotels, to serve the Parks and the tourist area with a production of 20 Gigawatt hours (GWh) / year representing 20% of our corresponding needs. This renewable and sustainable energy source produces no greenhouse gases.” It will help Disneyland Paris significantly reduce its carbon footprint and has a financial benefit too.
The geothermal energy covers all of the heating requirements at Villages Nature including keeping the lagoon at 85 degrees throughout the year. Disney adds that it “will be a new sustainable part of the energy mix of the central energy plant.”
Solar energy would bring a new renewable energy asset to the site which could come in handy when the Studios park grows in size. The impact of expansion on energy consumption can be clearly seen on the graph below which shows that when the 62-acre Studios park opened in 2002 Disneyland Paris used 16.7% more electricity than the previous year and 28.1% more gas.
The expansion will more than double the surface area of the Studios and is a whole new world for the park. It is currently focused on giving guests a behind the scenes look at moviemaking. Cars and bikes pull off spellbinding stunts in the outdoor show before the audience is told how they did them. The tram tour glides past props and sets from Disney productions whilst the special effects show reveals the tricks of the trade.
When the park opened, the art of movie-making was somewhat of a mystery but as time went on, that veil was lifted through ‘making of’ featurettes on DVDs and, ultimately, online search engines. In the face of this, Disney has begun repositioning the Studios park as a place where guests can immerse themselves in the environments at the heart of their favorite movies.
It started in 2014 with the debut of a ride themed to Ratatouille, the Oscar-winning computer animated movie made by Disney’s Pixar division. The ride features high-tech simulator cars which roam through indoor sets with integrated IMAX 3D screens.
It is set inside a townhouse on a cartoony Parisian square which is even more immersive than the ride itself. As we have reported, there’s a centerpiece fountain, iron lampposts, vespas leaning against the walls and outdoor seats at the café. It looks like a real-life version of one of the neighborhoods from the movie and this has made it a magnet for guests.
There often seem to be as many people in the square as there are on the ride itself. They spend time taking in the outlandish environment and snapping all-important selfies in front of the buildings there. It is a landscape which can’t be found anywhere else worldwide and that is gold dust for social media starlets looking for unique content. They aren’t concerned that there is only one ride in the area as the landscape itself is the star attraction.
The new lands in the Studios park will take this model to the next level as they are set to be far larger and even more immersive. Indeed, the new emphasis on being immersed rather than going behind the scenes is so significant that the park’s name could even be changed to reflect it.
The consultation documents state that “it is still a theme park based on Disney films and franchises, therefore, the name Studios is still valid. But it is true that we are transforming the Walt Disney Studios Park, it is possible that we consider another name, but we have not made any decision at this stage.”
Giving further insight into what lies in store once work begins in December next year, the documents add that “the extensions won’t be completely paved; just one-third of the surface will be covered with a slab. After that, many gardens, trees and plants will be added.” So it is set to complement the environment as well as being environmentally-friendly and that really is a happy ending.