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Air Force Targets Heat Plants for Energy Savings

by Jennifer Elmore

10/3/2011 - AFCESA -- Engineers at the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., are on a mission to help save facility energy across the Air Force. One target is central heat plants, which have miles of distribution lines and are known to be inefficient according to Tom Adams, an AFCESA mechanical engineer. He has evaluated heat plants across the Air Force and says some of the 50-year-old structures are only 50 percent efficient.

"Today you can achieve up to 95 percent efficiency with facility condensing boilers," said Adams. "This technology improvement essentially makes central heat plants obsolete, at least from an energy efficiency standpoint."

The Air Force has decentralized 10 heat plants; an additional decentralization project is under construction at McGuire AFB, N.J. Efforts are also underway at Tinker AFB, Okla. and Robins AFB, Ga., to award projects to decentralize heat plants. AFCESA engineers would like to see most heat plants decentralized and replaced with individual facility boilers, where cost effective. These projects could help the Air Force meet the Energy Independence and Security Act of 1997 mandate that requires all federal agencies to reduce energy consumption by three percent per fiscal year through 2015.

"Back when central heat plants were constructed in the fifties and early sixties, energy wasn't an issue in our country," said Adams. "It was very plentiful, very cheap, and the larger you built the boilers, the more efficient they were. So many times, it was advantageous to have a central heat system."

A central heat plant satisfies a base's heating requirements by burning fuel oil or natural gas in large boilers to create hot water or steam, which is usually distributed in underground pipes throughout the base. Each building taps into the hot water or steam distribution system to access the heat.

"We always want to propose a solution that makes sense for the base and the major command," said Adams. "We have to satisfy the mission first. Sometimes decentralizing a heat plant is not going to allow you to accomplish your mission as effectively."

For example, Adams recently evaluated the heat plant at Arnold AFB, Tenn., and says although it is operating at 50 percent efficiency it may not be a good candidate for decentralization because of the base's large heat requirement for test facilities. He says AFCESA is looking at repair options because small facility boilers may not be able to meet the steam demand for testing requirements.

"AFCESA is working with Arnold and Air Force Materiel Command to determine the most beneficial and cost-effective way forward including heat plant improvements and repairs to the distribution system," said Adams. He estimates a $14 million investment could improve Arnold's efficiency 20 percent and save the base $920,000 a year in utility costs.

AFCESA engineers will continue to evaluate opportunities throughout the Air Force and will actively pursue cost effective candidates as they are identified.

AFCESA is home to the Air Force Facility Energy Center. The center is made up of more than 50 engineers and professionals who identify, evaluate and help implement technologies and funding strategies to enable the Air Force to meet and surpass federal energy goals.

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