Powering Down

Building a life-cycle approach will help managers meet mandates for energy savings.

Recent legislation and a heightened focus on environmental stewardship are motivating federal agencies to better manage their facilities to ensure the sustainability and sufficiency of the energy that is critical to their daily operations. But with rising costs and tighter budgets, agencies need more conservation tactics or they could face cuts in core mission areas just to pay the utility bills.

Meeting legislative mandates will not be easy. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, for example, requires federal facilities to reduce energy consumption by 3 percent per year through 2015, for a total reduction of 30 percent. Executive order 13514, issued in October 2009, requires agencies to set targets, measure and report on greenhouse gas emissions.

Simple solutions like replacing inefficient lighting will not be enough. Agencies need to build a life-cycle approach, which can be achieved only through a comprehensive energy management plan. This roadmap should begin with data collection and analysis and then put in place a broad range of energy conservation measures that can be monitored and controlled. This approach was the hallmark of a recent energy project at the Air Force Medical Service to meet federal mandates and make a substantial dent in escalating costs.

According to the General Services Administration, the government owned, leased or otherwise managed nearly 450,000 buildings in 2007, comprising 3.3 billion square feet. More than 600 trillion BTUs of energy at a cost of $6.2 billion were needed to operate those buildings. Congress and President Obama have called on agencies to reduce the environmental impact of their facilities, curtail energy costs, reduce dependence on foreign oil and lead the nation by example.

Low-consumption devices, automation and power monitoring can help meet conservation goals and continuously improve energy efficiency. This constitutes the basis of a life-cycle approach that can be framed as a four-step process:

--Measure energy use to identify savings opportunities and create a baseline to gauge improvement.

--Fix the basics by installing low-consumption equipment and systems, and addressing power quality.

--Automate and control equipment and systems, which promotes more active energy management.

--Monitor and improve energy savings through continuous analysis, maintenance and supervision.

The Air Force Medical Service-made up of 40,000 officers, enlisted and civilian personnel, plus 20,000 members assigned to the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard-serves the health care needs of warfighters, their dependents and retirees globally. Located on Air Force bases, its hospitals, medical centers and clinics range from 10 to 60 years old.

Commissioned to determine energy use across AFMS, Chicago-based Kroeschell Engineering Co. recommended an extensive power metering project. "The agency wanted a central clearinghouse for collection of the energy data and a consistent yardstick to compare its facilities to similar-use facilities," says Ken Schuette, vice president of Kroeschell Engineering.

The project involved more than 100 power meters to capture information on all utility use, including water, compressed air, gas, electricity and steam.

Accessed daily via the Internet, the data provided a snapshot of dozens of facets of energy use, allowing facility managers to ascertain the most and least efficient buildings. As a result, they have markedly improved energy consumption, and some facilities are pursuing certification through the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star building program.

The distinction must be drawn between energy efficiency, which is the desired result, and energy management, which requires a strategic plan to achieve that result. Focusing on management will better position facility managers to achieve their goals.

Ellen Kotzbauer is manager of the government segment at Schneider Electric, a contractor for the Air Force Medical Service project.

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