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The topic of energy efficiency doesn't usually get much press, but for various reasons it has been barreling through the news cycle in recent weeks. One major development is a new $243 million efficiency upgrade slated for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.


US Air Force Makes A $243 Million Energy Efficiency Pitch (CleanTechnica Exclusive Interview)

The topic of energy efficiency doesn’t usually get much press, but for various reasons it has been barreling through the news cycle in recent weeks. One major development is a new $243 million efficiency upgrade slated for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.

The topic of energy efficiency doesn’t usually get much press, but for various reasons it has been barreling through the news cycle in recent weeks. One major development is a new $243 million efficiency upgrade slated for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. If that sounds like a lot of clams for US taxpayers to swallow, guess again. The project comes under a performance agreement with the contractor, Honeywell, which requires no money up front and is expected to save $626 million over the life of the contract. Winning!

But wait, there’s more. The savings in cash is just part of the energy efficiency story at Tinker. Last week  Joseph Cecrle, Energy Manager at Tinker, took time out of his busy schedule to fill in the blanks in an exclusive phone interview with CleanTechnica.

It’s A Tough Job…

The new upgrade is aimed at the sprawling Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. Here’s a rundown from OC-ALC that illustrates how complicated the project will be:

The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma is one of the largest units in the Air Force Materiel Command. The complex performs programmed depot maintenance on the C/KC-135, B-1B, B-52 and E-3 aircraft; expanded phase maintenance on the Navy E-6 aircraft; and maintenance, repair and overhaul of F100, F101, F108, F110, F117, F118, F119 and TF33 engines for the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, Navy and foreign military sales.

That’s not all…

Additionally, the complex is responsible for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of a myriad of Air Force and Navy airborne accessory components, and the development and sustainment of a diverse portfolio of operational flight programs, test program sets, automatic test equipment, and industrial automation software.

Keeping all this activity humming along is a workforce of 9,400 possessing almost 100 different job skills, who are spread out among 63 buildings. The industrial floor space alone adds up to more than 8 million square feet.

…But Somebody’s Got To Do It — And Quick!

The complex’s roots go back to 1943, and though some upgrades have taken place over the years, parts of the complex are seriously out of date (for the record, Honeywell is also behind a recent round of upgrades at Tinker that began in 2006).

The OC-ALC upgrade will pay particular attention to the central steam plant, which serves 11 different buildings. Along with keeping the workforce warm in the winter, the system provides process heat for several different production lines that can be active all year. When that plant goes down, everything else shuts down, too.

That’s where Cecrle made some interesting observations about the transition from coal to natural gas, in the context of today’s software-driven energy management systems.

As Cecrle explained, small scale coal systems are uneconomical to operate compared to natural gas. Among other issues, they eat up more in labor and maintenance costs.

Natural gas flips the equation. Today’s energy management technology enables small scale, automated gas powered steam systems to be installed at or near the point of use without exploding the energy budget.

The central plant at OC-ALC currently burns natural gas, but it’s getting the heave-ho anyway and it will be replaced by a remote management system controlling small scale, distributed gas plants.

From the CleanTechnica point of view, optimally those distributed plants would be powered by renewable energy, but as Cecrle pointed out, the efficiency gains will still make a substantial improvement in the complex’s carbon footprint.

“Some components of that steam plant are as old as the 1940’s,” Cecrle explained. “It’s been problematic for decades. Steam leaks occur in the distribution system, and since they’re buried under concrete they are expensive to address.”

With some buildings up to a mile away from the central plant, those leaks can add up to a significant waste of energy.

Energy loss in the form of leaks is just one part of the problem. Cecrle also describes what happens to the condensate, which should be recycled back to the central plant in the form of hot water:

The condensate return is corroded, so none is being returned to central plant. The hot water goes down the sewer.

Another area of improvement will be the replacement of the all-steam system mainly with more efficient direct gas heating for building spaces including warehouses and hangars.

A small number of small-scale gas-powered steam systems will be installed for production processes that require steam.

Energy Efficiency And Culture Change

There are many other components to the new OC-ALC project, and to Cecrle one of the most meaningful ones is the now-familiar upgrade to LED lighting.

Here’s a snippet from the phone interview, where Cecrle described the impact that the new lighting will have on operations at OC-ALC, and on its employees (interview edited for flow and clarity throughout):

Old lighting systems can be very annoying to users. When the lights burn out, you have to move the aircraft to do maintenance — if you’ve got an aircraft in a hanger you can’t be dropping stuff on it.

Coordinating manufacturing with light replacement is also an issue.

Traditional lighting systems burn out every two or three years. The LEDs have a 10 year guarantee, and we expect the actual lifespan to be 15 years.

We’ve never tried to dollarize impact on worker environment but when you’ve got a work environment that’s well lit and you’re able to regulate the temperature in a proper way, workers are more productive.

Cecrle clarified that the energy efficiency upgrade will not result in a “dramatic” change in the types of work going on at OC-ALC.

However, he does anticipate a culture change. Part of that change is already under way, as nearly all of the personnel at the base have already undergone an energy awareness course:

…It’s very much like other industries, automation and computers are changing the types of jobs people have, and the types of work those people do.

The big untold story of automation is culture change…even with lighting you’ve changed the work environment.

Along with the training course, the energy awareness culture at OC-ALC also includes soliciting and tracking employee suggestions for additional improvements, and establishing employee teams to analyze energy use in their own areas.

The Energy Efficiency Ripple Effect

The emphasis on culture change is no accident. It’s embedded in the project as part of the Air Force’s larger ISO 50001 certification program for improving energy management.

Last month, OC-ALC was confirmed for certification, making it the first federal agency to meet the rigorous requirements.

Here’s a rundown from an Air Force article about the certification:

The certification is one of a number of “firsts” in the complex’s wide-ranging Continuous Energy Improvement program to enshrine “Art of the Possible” energy goals at the complex. It is the first time that ISO 50001 certification was included as a required goal in any Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC)…The $243 million [Honeywell] contract for facility and energy modernization is also the largest contract of its kind in Air Force history.

The Air Force also passed along some pithy remarks from Honeywell…

“It’s the first one to get started and it gets people from the ground up working to save energy…It will be ongoing and something that continues on. It’s not a shot in the dark and forgets it tomorrow.”

…and from another partner in the certification effort, Global Strategic Energy:

“Beyond the energy savings, the ISO 50001 energy management system will ensure that a focus on energy will persist at the ALC regardless of changes in command and changes in personnel…This is visionary. The ALC has shown the entire Department of Defense how to make energy a permanent part of its readiness and effectiveness.”

Here’s how Cecrle summed it all up:

The Department of Defense uses a lot of energy to keep the country safe, and people working in energy areas of the Department of Defense really feel a responsibility back to the taxpayer to make sure we’re making efficient use of the funding we’re provided.

With a project like this, we are making the work more efficient while reducing energy consumption currently and in the future, all at no additional cost to taxpayer.

Regardless of your world view, it’s about being a good steward, about not being wasteful with resources of any kind.

That’s something anybody can appreciate and feel good about.

For more CleanTechnica articles about US Air Force energy initiatives check out the Air Force and US Military topics, and visit our sister site for more military sustainability news.

Photo (cropped): “Jordan Piper and Fernando Jacobo, both pneudraulics systems mechanics with the 550th Commodities Maintenance Squadron’s Air Accessories Squadron, set up an F-22 air cooling turbine on a test rig in order to meet technical order requirements to make sure it produces cool air in Bldg. 200’s Air Test Cells” by Kelly White via US Department of Defense.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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