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Feds serve as green tech ‘test bed'

May. 23, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TIM KAUFFMAN   |   Comments
The General Services Administration will use the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis to test four alternative photovoltaic systems.
The General Services Administration will use the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis to test four alternative photovoltaic systems. ()

The Defense Department and General Services Administration, which control three-fourths of the government's office space, say they want to use those facilities to test the latest green technologies.

"We hope to be a test bed for new technologies and take advantage of our long-standing role as an early adopter and help to create a market," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment.

Likewise, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson wants to reduce her agency's carbon footprint to zero not just in the facilities GSA builds and manages, but in all of the goods and services agencies purchase through GSA. That will require GSA to test new energy sources for powering buildings, new technologies for measuring and reducing energy consumption and new green materials for office products and cleaning supplies.

"We will have to find innovative ideas like never before, and take risks that are absolutely not within our current comfort range," Johnson said last week at the U.S. Green Building Council's 2010 Federal Summit in Washington.

Efforts by GSA and the Pentagon to expand the use of new energy-saving technologies come as the Obama administration is calling on all agencies to shrink their carbon footprints and become better stewards of the environment. Agencies must cut their energy consumption 30 percent by 2015 as compared to 2003, increase their use of renewable energy to 7.5 percent annually by 2013, and cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average 26 percent by 2020.

Both agencies point to several projects in the works that will serve as test beds for emerging technologies that could help agencies do that.

The Pentagon is paying General Electric $2 million to build a smart microgrid at the Marine Corps' largest base, Twentynine Palms in California's Mojave Desert. It's the first major demonstration of the new technology, which will link the energy being produced on base from solar panels, diesel generators and other sources with the electricity being purchased commercially. Using computer monitors, the smart grid will determine how to better manage and maximize that mix of energy. It also will be able to cut off air conditioners, water heaters and other noncritical equipment to reduce the energy load at peak times of the day.

Installing the smart microgrid will allow the base to be more resilient and to continue functioning for longer periods if the base loses off-site power because of brownouts, a common problem in California and a growing issue nationwide, Robyn said.

"You have to identify in advance what functions you want to keep going and what functions you don't if the grid goes down," she said.

In another test case, Defense is spending $3.2 million to deploy advanced building energy management systems at three locations: Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California; McGuire Air Force Base in central New Jersey; and the Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Ill.

Defense hopes to show that it can reduce electricity demand and water use through these systems, which were developed by United Technologies Research Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California at Berkeley and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Using wireless technology, the systems will constantly monitor energy and water consumption, flag instances where consumption is higher than normal and then recommend corrective actions to a building's mechanical systems.

GSA, meanwhile, will be testing four alternative photovoltaic systems on the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis under a joint project with the Energy Department and Sandia National Laboratories. Each of the three-kilowatt systems are commercially available and will allow for testing the operation and maintenance of each system in Midwest climates.

GSA also is spending $200 million in Recovery Act funds to replace the country's third-busiest land port of entry, in Nogales, Ariz., with a state-of-the-art facility that will generate as much energy as it consumes. The net-zero facility will use solar panels, solar hot water, advanced lighting, an advanced building automation system and other innovations.

GSA's renovated headquarters in Washington also will serve as a laboratory for green initiatives. As part of the major modernization to the 1917 building, courtyard atriums will be enclosed in glass covered with high-performance glazing. John Simpson, a sustainable design engineer at GSA, likened the glazing to eyeglasses that darken and lighten based on sun exposure.

The technology is commercially available but still on the cutting edge of building design, Simpson said earlier this month at the Federal Real Property Association's annual conference in Washington.

"We at GSA can afford to be at the bleeding edge of new technologies," Simpson said. "We can test those and prove them and make them more economically available."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a longtime environmental champion, said GSA and DoD can leverage their size and buying power to improve not only how the government operates but propel the entire country toward a cleaner future.

Government "can, in and of itself, change building practices and help us gain critical mass," Blumenauer said.

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