US Air Force Decarbonizes On Wings Of Energy Efficiency

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Energy efficiency isn’t much of a headline-grabber, but it does have the power to drive people crazy. Just take a quick look back at the lightbulb wars to catch some of the flavor. Nevertheless, energy efficiency is front and center in the Air Force’s mission to decarbonize itself and the entire Department of Defense, to boot. Just follow the money: as we speak, $403 million is being poured into a massive energy upgrade for Yokota Air Base in Japan.

energy efficiency us air force
A major new energy project gives the US Air Force a jump on President-elect Joe Biden’s climate action plan (photo via US Air Force).

US Air Force Pays For An Energy Efficiency Upgrade…In Japan?

Yokota Air Base isn’t just any old air base. Think Pacific Rim (the region, not the movie) and you’re on the right track. As home of the 374th Air Lift Wing they are tasked to “execute rapid global mobility through agile airlift and support operations across the Indo-Pacific.” That’s quite a mouthful all by itself. That involves a significant element of partner-building, and the energy aspect comes into play when you consider the somewhat precarious position of Japan’s energy supply.

An energy upgrade for Yokota Air Base would be a neighborly thing to do, as it would help improve reliability and resiliency throughout the grid. More to the point, an upgrade would provide the sprawling facility with improved resiliency and security in case of grid disruptions.

Yokota got a wake-up call back on March 11, 2011, after a huge earthquake struck Japan. The resulting damage to the nation’s electricity infrastructure spurred the expectation of summertime power shortages, which was bad news for Yokota Air Base due to its reliance on AC in the warm season.

“According to base officials, Yokota Air Base, a customer of TEPCO, uses increased power during the summer as base residents and personnel cool their homes and offices. This increased consumption leads to greater strain on the Japanese energy grid and could cause black out or brown outs,” the Air Force recounted.

To help reduce the summertime spike during peak hours, all personnel were advised to observe basic energy efficiency practices including AC, lighting, non-essential electronics, and laundry or other appliance-based chores that could be done off-peak.

If that sounds like pretty weak tea, it is. The focus on individual behavior may have helped over the short run, but the very next summer our friends over at Stripes noted that Yokota and other US military facilities in Japan were gearing up for another seasonal energy shortage.

Summertime is not the only fragile period. Just last week, Nikkei Asia reported that TEPCO was begging its customers to help avoid blackouts as energy use spiked on the heels of a cold spell.

Yokota Air Base Dips A Big $403 Million Toe Into Energy Efficiency Waters

Well, that was then. The US Department of Defense has been plowing the big bucks into all sorts of clean tech and foundational research over the past several years, including energy storage, renewables, and microgrids as well as energy efficiency, and the Air Force has been pulling its weight.

One example is here in the US, where Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma reduced its energy consumption by 35% through a series of upgrades.

That’s just a hint of things to come. Last October, the Air Force articulated a decarbonization mission for the entire DOD, and Yokohama Air Base is a big box to check off.

The new project won’t rid the entire facility of carbon emissions but it will be a giant step toward the sparkling green future. The total of $403 million covers a 25-year contract with the firm Schneider Electric that includes 19 different energy conservation projects, highlighted by a microgrid-enabled 10-megawatt combined heat and power plant that will offset Yokota’s demand on the grid.

Under the contract, other central energy infrastructure will get a makeover, building automation will be expanded and consolidated. Individual buildings — all 450+ of them — will also get lighting and plumbing upgrades.

Included in the package is 25 years’ worth of operation, maintenance, repair, and training provided by Schneider on site.


The Air Force is sending along some additional details on the technology, and meanwhile they emailed us some of the basic principles underlying the work.

In addition to the use of microgrid and CHP infrastructure, the project observes three tenets of sustainable energy performance. One is to reduce the practice of reactive maintenance by deploying smart, Internet-connected devices that monitor and predict problems before they happen. Another is to deploy data-enhanced strategies for spotting opportunities to save money and reduce carbon emissions, while improving performance.

The third element may sound rather dry but the overall effect is to align Yokota Air Base with the global decarbonization trend. As explained by the Air Force, the aim is to “design and implement electrical systems that comply with the newest building codes, help achieve green building certifications, and support ‘active’ energy management programs compliant with global best practices.

All of this is in the capable hands of the France-based firm Schneider Electric. Despite the old school moniker and 19th century roots, Schneider has been steaming full speed ahead into the clean energy future of the 21st century, and has popped up on the CleanTechnica radar with some regularity.

Who’s Gonna Pay For All This?

The project is expected to take three years to complete, and the payoff will be huge. With all those upgrades under its belt, Yokota expects to shave $20 million off its annual utility costs by saving 30 million gallons of water, 80 thousand MMBTU, and 75 million kilowatt-hours each year.

As for who’s gonna pay for all this, no US taxpayer dollars will be hurt in the making of this energy efficiency upgrade. The deal comes under the Energy Service Performance Contract model, in which the client pays little or no money up front. The payments are stretched out over time and are offset by the energy savings.

Clean Technology For The US Space Command, Too

Turning now to the latest news from the US, we just can’t wait to see all the new energy efficiency technology that will bedeck the new headquarters of the newly commissioned US Space Command, can you?

Space Command has been out there looking for a suitable site for many months, and earlier this week the Air Force called the hotly contended prize in favor of Huntsville, Alabama.

“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs,” enthused the Air Force, which also gave the US Army’s nearby Redstone Arsenal a shoutout for serving as temporary headquarters until the new facility is constructed.

Space Command can glean some energy efficiency and clean tech inspiration while hanging out at Redstone Arsenal. The facility’s energy infrastructure is really showing its age, including an estimated 46% loss through its network of steam lines alone. A 2009 energy and water master plan plotted the work to be done, and Redstone has been hammering away that itself ever since.

If you have any idea how much Redstone expects to save annually, drop us a note in the comment thread. Also throw in that new 10-megawatt solar array with a 1-megawatt energy storage element, which alone is expected to save about $1.5 million annually over the life of its contract.

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Photo: “An F-16DJ Fighting Falcon assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan, approaches a barrier cable during the initial certification test of the newly installed flightline BAK-12 barrier, aircraft arresting system (AAS) at Yokota Air Base, Japan” (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Gabrielle Spalding).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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