27 Aug 2014 10:00 PM | Anonymous

High Roller at the Linq Field Trip

On August 27, 2014 the Nevada chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers held a tour of the newly opened “High Roller at the Linq”.  After opening in April of this year, this attraction not only changed the skyline of the city, but it is also a one of a kind feature near the center of the Strip.  We think the field trip was popular because of the subject matter, but we also know this ride has the best view of the Strip and takes passengers on a gentle round trip, 550 feet above the surrounding area, for the best views of the Valley.  The tour also happened to be free, and maximum reserved attendance limit was reached in just one day – Amazing…!  The tour group was made up of mostly AEE members, directors and officers, but we added a several guests intent on joining the local chapter.  With events like this, how could they not want to be part of an organization that serves both energy managers and conservators, but facility executives, utility managers and professionals who want to see energy used wisely and efficiently?  Our thanks go out to the folks at Caesars for making the tour free of charge, hosting the operations experts that day for the question and answer portion of the tour, plus holding it on a sunny August afternoon. It may have been warm out, but energy experts and managers have a way of going into the hottest, noisiest and dustiest places without breaking sweat.  

The Physical Plant & Ride

The first stop on the tour was the physical plant, to see the new equipment used for chilled water (three 1940 ton chillers), boilers and cooling towers.  Variable frequency drives are in abundant use within the development to save energy on wheel and retail complex operations.  The physical plant provides service for more than the observation wheel and includes portions of the casino, the retail area, support buildings and the grounds of the High Roller.

Our tour group then met at the entry point to see the ride preparations that a visitor would see, since this was the main entry point for access to the ride and a convenient place to see the aesthetics of the surrounding development.  We processed our tour group through ticketing and then proceeded to the ride entry platform to board the cabins that move continuously during the operating hours – one rotation or “trip” lasts 30 minutes.  To gain entry to the cabins, the platform has a curved landing platform that matches the shape of the wheel so that a step across a small gap would put guests inside the cabin and begin the ride. Each cabin is aligned for about 45 seconds on the boarding platform to have guests enter before they miss the opportunity to embark and have to wait for the next cabin.  Once on board, jostling for a good window view was expected and gave everyone a chance to get a first look, despite the observation wheel only still being a few dozen feet off the ground.  

After 15 minutes, the ride reaches its apogee and the cabin tops out with a brief countdown to “top dead center” while the guests could see 50+ miles in each direction.  The rooftop HVAC equipment seen on virtually every building around town was working furiously on this 100+ degree day and the cabins were kept at a cool 72 degrees with 4 tons of cooling per cabin.   The high tech curved glass (2 layers) on the cabins was moderately warm and the ceiling mounted, multi screen video system was used to inform guests on the key features of the ride and the opportunities to commemorate the tour. It looked like the design of the cabins was meant to optimize comfort and enjoyment for the passengers, but to also balance that with safety and energy efficiency wherever possible.  A part of the failsafe system is the Manual Mode Recovery Device (MMRD) – used when total power failure occurs and backup power systems fail to allow the wheel to be unloaded using primary power or the back-up generator.  This MMRD system acts as an independent recovery system with generator and motor to rotate the wheel for passenger safety.

Each cabin has HVAC units mounted below floor level with ducts supplying conditioned air to diffusers near the ceiling, along the perimeter of the glass.  In effect, these units are cooling the perimeter of the cabin where the cabins gets the warmest.   The floor cavity also has first aid kits, toilets in a bag, AEDs and a first aid kit – plus water (this is still the desert…).  An emergency public address system is used to contact passengers when needed, and there is a central security camera that records footage, but is not used with continual viewing status unless an emergency takes place. The cabin doors cannot be opened by passengers without a special tool, procedure and knowledge of the specific locking mechanism location used to secure the cabin.

Energy Use and Statistics

Key energy use statistics (Approximate) included the following:

  • ·        Energy required to rotate the wheel on one revolution in summer: 1800 KWH or about $150 per trip = about $4200/day (wheel only)
  • ·        The demand for power is rated as 2100 Amps with a 12,500 volt 3 phase service (main power supply)
  • ·        Rate category for main power feed servicing the wheel is a Large General Service category #3 – virtually the largest available commercial service category. 
  • ·        The emergency generator for the wheel: 2000 KW
  • ·        The wheel is reversible, but travels clockwise when viewed from the west.  The rate of travel is one foot per second or just over one half MPH.  In an emergency, the wheel can speed up, but a constant speed is what most people will typically see.

The design of the energy supply system has triple redundancy with bus bar supply following the east side perimeter of the wheel. The wheel itself has 8 motor drives that are used for rotation and the connection to the wheel rim is via truck tire interface.   Redundant drives for the wheel are needed to trim power use and to account for variables like when lighter loads are in use.

General Facts

General operations for the wheel began with this year with April 1st, 2014 being the opening day.  The 28 cabins use LED lights exclusively for interior and exterior illumination.   The highest wattage lamps are 72 watts with lamps facing two directions to provide a light show as well as “washing” the architectural elements of the wheel for aesthetic interest.  Four cabins have LED Federal Aviation Administration lights attached to the bottom of the cabin to warn off airplanes that get too close.   The movie “Con-Air” was filmed a mere 400 yards north of this site, but this site is just west of the flight path for McCarran airport.

Parties (with liquor) can be held in each cabin and the multi colored LED lights on the exterior are used to illuminate the wheel as an addition to the city skyline, visible from that 50+ mile radius. The wheel has 28 cabins that hold 40 guests each, which comes out to 1120/people per hour.  If a guest misses getting on at the platform, they would break their fall with a net hung below the platform. There has yet to be a fall into the safety net.  The cabins are painted white to help with deflecting heat and testing with power failure was conducted to see what conditions would exist for passenger comfort in the event of power loss.

The pressurized roller bearings on the axle of the wheel are over 2 meters in diameter and weigh around 10 tons – these units sit 275 feet above ground level.  A simple friction drive system is used to overcome the massive torque needed to begin rotation of the wheel and modest truck tires to get things moving.


          The location of the high roller is situated at the east end of a garden level, retail complex that formerly was an alley between the Flamingo and the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino (remade as the “Linq”).  This location was formerly under-developed and was the site for truck traffic and storage.   The current site has retail shops and restaurants lining a walking mall that is oriented east / west and has a landscaped promenade separating the linear complex.  The new site layout reflected the results of a careful master plan for optimizing view sheds, traffic flow and site retail space.

A major drainage element runs below the wheel and the foundations were placed to avoid a major reconstruction of the Flamingo wash.   This wash was famous for having overflow conditions years ago when rain events would quickly test the capacity of drainage infrastructure in the Valley.   The asymmetrical structural bracing for the wheel has a strut that “kicks out” to the east, above this drainage system and was designed to provide wind and seismic loading support.

In the physical plant, the group was treated to seeing the clean and sleek equipment used to supply power to the ride and adjoining complex.  The functions of the physical plant were co-mingled with the high roller and retail complex so that space use could be optimized.  The largest motor used to turn the 550’ wheel is rated at 125 HP, but it is really a series of motors working as a group.   The power distribution systems used, required some special training for the operating engineers to handle day to day operations, but the observation wheel’s demand for power is considered slow and steady with the need to overcome a serious initial torque demand.   Uninterruptable power systems on each cabin were necessary to make sure cooling units were operable in the event of a general power shut down and occupants would not have dangerous exposure levels of heat while awaiting a rescue.


The end of the tour came too quickly and the group had more questions than time permitted.  With the blazing summer sun headed for the western horizon, the group went to one of the on-site restaurants to get a bit of refreshment and to socialize.   We considered this trip to be a resounding success as our tour accomplished its goals for a great field trip – to study the energy use at a site where the design and construction process contained unusual consumption and operational parameters, to advance the understanding of progressive energy management techniques, and to permit our members to get a well needed break from their regular routine to explore the biggest, best and newest mechanical equipment in town.  This trip will  go down as one of the most interesting, and if our AEE members from out of town can make it for the next tour, we will be happy to host all members that want to take home the knowledge, memories and facts about energy use at a one-of-a-kind site.


With the attraction only being in operation since April of this year, the best practices and lessons learned about this project have already started to present themselves. Some of these lessons are tied directly to energy use, but several beyond those listed below, have multiple layers that incorporate the design/construction and operations.

#1 Build First – By getting the design/construction underway quickly and completing the project rapidly, the opportunity for a second observation wheel further south down the Strip was changed, perhaps permanently.  The second wheel was to be built across from Mandalay Bay, but the first wheel completed (This one) had a distinct advantage for marketing and sales.   This location added a unique shape to the skyline and supplements the surrounding illuminated buildings that are visible at night.   

#2 Use of LEDs – With the explosion in use of LED light technology, this wheel went above and beyond on the selection and installation of lights that are used to fulfill several functions.  These lights are not particularly easy to change, they endure exposure to rugged climactic conditions and can have custom color changes take place through an onsite programming console.  

#3 Optimization of Energy Measurement - Making a simple attraction reliable, safe and efficient with a low energy appetite is part of the operational goal.   Building it for the first time as an example to be copied by others, will have benefits because the demand for bigger, better, faster attractions helps with innovation in construction and progressive energy management.   In this case, the observation wheel will set an example for the followers that seek to explore unique power distribution systems and to lower operational costs.  This wheel and complex uses VFDs, sensors and measurement tools to control the energy appetite and to warn of situations that are outside normal operating conditions.  After a full year of operations in a desert climate, there may be new practices that are implemented to keep energy use in check while the price of energy seems to endlessly rise.


In conclusion, we may one day see that a wheel like this can be energy self-sufficient with translucent solar panels or harnessing the energy of a waste stream through co-generation.   Our kids and their generation are bound to inherit these monuments to tourism and entertainment with an inseparable need to provide power, to use basic energy saving techniques and to keep tourists and residents coming back for more. For now, the lessons learned in this attraction teaches us that our energy managers, electrical designers and contractors who are willing to undertake large complex projects like this, will have their names associated with success and the future. 

 Author : Jeff Dix

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