Selfridge energy initiatives to conserve environment, save money, increase national security

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Anna-Marie Wyant
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
The 127th Wing plans to increase energy efficiency through various initiatives here over the next few years to help save the environment --not to mention taxpayer dollars.

Using energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, smart meters, and retro-commissioning older electronic devices are a few ways the wing is currently going "greener." To be considered effective, the new initiatives must have a 10-year return, meaning the cost of the new systems and equipment must be fiscally met in energy savings over a 10-year period or sooner, said Steve Krajnik, energy manager for the 127th Wing.

Being smart about energy

In order to improve energy efficiency, there has to be a quantifiable starting point. That's where smart meters come in handy. Smart meters monitor electricity, water and gas consumption; these meters are being installed in 36 buildings on base, Krajnik said. He said the meters will not only over time map the reduction in energy consumption, but also if a meter shows an abnormal amount of energy consumption, it will alert civil engineering personnel to a possible problem with equipment or facilities. By 2015, Krajnik said the goal is to have a meter installed on every qualified building on base.

Retro-commissioning involves replacing old, inefficient heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment with new, energy-saving, environmentally-friendly equipment, tweaking systems and ensuring older buildings are up to standards. Four wing buildings have been retro-commissioned to date; Krajnik said the initiative, which is being worked in concert with mechanical shop personnel and the wing' mechanical engineer, will begin on 17 additional buildings in 2012.

Another initiative driven by the wing's structural shop includes changing older T-12 fluorescent lights, which contain a small amount of mercury and are very inefficient, for new T-5, T-8 or even LED lights. LED lights cost more initially, but are low-maintenance, have a much longer life, and consume far less energy, Krajnik said. The wing is working on initiatives to improve exterior lighting systems and would ideally eventually have LED lighting base wide, including street and airfield lighting.

Keeping energy usage on track

Altogether base facilities use a great deal of energy, but Krajnik said various buildings on base are being upgraded to do more with less. The upgraded systems feature direct digital control (DDC), which means the energy use in certain buildings can be monitored and maintained from one central location.

"We can find out if there's something wrong usually by looking on a screen rather than waiting for a complaint, sending someone over to check it out, then getting a specialist to fix the problem," said Richard Boyland, a 127th Wing DDC mechanic who currently monitors buildings through DDC from his office.

In figuring out a problem at the start, time, money, and energy can all be saved.

"Also, we can program a schedule based on a building's regular hours of operation to ensure energy isn't being wasted when people aren't there," he said.

Boyland said another part of effective heating and cooling systems is having situational awareness.

"People need to watch what they're doing and make sure they're not covering up vents or making the system work harder than it needs to," said Boyland. "DDC helps us get a handle on things, but good office practices are essential."

He said soon 33 wing buildings will be monitored through DDC.

Geothermal heating and cooling

Projects are underway to install three new geothermal systems on base as well. Shannon Hulswit, who works on energy management and land use planning at Selfridge, said the wing is currently installing horizontal closed-loop geothermal systems to support the new munitions complex facilities on base. The new geothermal systems will use 40-70 percent less energy than existing HVAC systems, Hulswit said. Current top of the line natural gas furnaces run approximately 95 percent efficient, while geothermal heat pumps are approximately 400 percent efficient; the heat pumps achieve greater efficiency by moving up to four units of heat for every one unit of electricity required to power the system.

"In addition to being one of the most efficient renewable energy sources for this region, these geothermal systems will provide Selfridge with a short return on investment," Hulswit said.

The new geothermal systems will take advantage of the earth's constant temperature, which is approximately 51 degrees Fahrenheit below the frost line at Selfridge. Each system will run a mixture of water and Propylene glycol, an antifreeze, through a series of horizontal loops which will lie approximately 15 feet below ground. The loops will connect to a geothermal heat pump, which will circulate the glycol through the system, providing 51-degree air to either heat or cool the air depending on the season.

"In the summer, the system takes the hot air from the building and runs it through the horizontal loops creating fifty-one-degree air we temper," Hulswit said. "In winter, it works in reverse. The heat pump only has to raise the building temperature from fifty-one degrees in the winter, not the freezing temperatures outside, making it more efficient."

Hulswit said the heating and cooling cost would be reduced by approximately 50 percent or more once the geothermal system is fully functional.

Future energy initiatives

The wing will continue to expand its energy-saving initiatives in the future. Hulswit said this involves investing in more renewable energy sources, including solar thermal and photovoltaic systems. While both systems utilize energy created but the sun, the two systems have some distinct differences.

"Photovoltaic systems harness the sun's light waves to generate electricity, which we can use to power our buildings, while solar thermal systems take advantage of the sun's heat, which we can use to meet our domestic hot water needs," Hulswit said.

With all these energy-saving initiatives comes additional money-saving incentives; energy costs will directly lower due to natural energy production. Also, local energy suppliers and the government offer tax rebates for these energy conservation efforts, saving the wing money that could be invested in more "green" initiatives.

It's not easy going green

While the energy program started out slowly, it is now moving along steadily due to hard work and dedication from various shops on base.
"The program isn't crawling anymore--it's up and walking," Krajnik said.

In addition to saving money and conserving the environment, Krajnik said producing more natural energy here also increases national security.

"Being more energy efficient lowers our dependence on foreign oil," he said. "We need to get to a point in the future where we are completely secure and independent of fossil fuels."

He said the Air Force vision is a net-zero energy use, meaning the base will not consume more energy than it produces. A big part of ensuring a successful energy efficiency plan is everyday participation from base personnel.

"We've had great command and tenant support, but a cultural change needs to happen," Krajnik said. "We need to better educate on energy awareness and get everyone in the wing/base motivated; it's critically important."

He said each person is responsible for doing their part of energy conservation--things as simple as turning off lights when leaving an empty room and keeping windows closed while heating or cooling systems are on.

"Many people do things here that they wouldn't do at home," he said. "If you can be conscious about saving energy at home, you can do it at work too."