Army changing its energy culture through better data

Jared Serbu, DoD reporter, Federal News Radio

wfedstaff | April 17, 2015 8:49 pm

At its installations around the world, the Army has been trying to instill a culture of energy conservation.

But it’s tough to manage what you can’t measure, so the service has been installing advanced electric meters on most of its major buildings over the last several years, and expects to finish the project within the next year.

The Army views the metering program as an enormously valuable tool that will inform its future energy management programs, but the meters also are required by federal law — the 2005 Energy Management Act told agencies to measure the electricity use of each of their buildings wherever practicable. The Army installed 8,600 meters as of this month, amounting to about 96 percent of its goal. It plans to finish the rest by 2015.

“When I joined the Army, it surprised me to find that most bases only had one meter, and it was at the main gate,” said Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. “Now that we’re doing this and every barracks on a base is metered, our commanders who can see that data are now holding meetings once a month and saying, ‘OK, this building was the most efficient, but this one jumped 20 percent.’ It’s holding the energy team leaders responsible. When you have information, you can influence action. Without that information, it’s been very hard to influence energy efficiency as part of the culture in the Army.”

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But the Army envisions using its new electric data well above the level of individual installations. The $230 million program, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, also includes a new Armywide enterprise data platform called the Meter Data Management System (MDMS).

New meters to capture different types of energy usage

The system eventually will measure and analyze the service’s energy usage down to an individual building, giving senior officials a hyper-local accounting for at least 65 percent of all of the electricity the Army consumes. Officials think that will let them make better Army-level decisions about which conservation programs are working.

“This is really an effort to modify behavior,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re trying to change it, and we’re starting in our facilities that are larger than 35,000 square feet or that spend more than $29,000 per year on electricity. In the privately-operated homes on our installations, they’re already rewarding renters for saving energy. We’re not at the point yet where we can figure out how to do that in barracks or large buildings, but we certainly want to inform them about what they’re using in comparison to like-facilities that might be better at managing their energy.”

The Army Corps’ next steps will be installing meters that can capture a similar level of granular data about the natural gas, steam and water each building is using. About 2,500 of those meters are installed, but it’s a longer term project that won’t be completed until at least 2020.

The Army has focused first on electricity use because — just as in most American homes and businesses — it’s the organization’s biggest utility expense. Even though the service has cut its electricity use by 16 percent over the past decade, its electric bills have increased from $440 million in 2003 to $1.4 billion in 2013.

The Army is taking several steps to make its bases more energy independent, including the installation of renewable energy facilities on its own property, but there is more work to be done on the demand side of the equation, said Lt. Gen. David Halverson, the commander of the Army Installation Management Command.

Halverson said budget pressures and Cold War-era demands to make U.S facilities more resilient to power disruptions made the military very conscious of its energy use in the latter part of the 20th century. But that objective became less important during the last 10 years of deployments to the Middle East.

“It’s really important to get back into doing these things. People weren’t doing a lot of the basics because they didn’t have to worry about that energy culture, and we were very busy with Afghanistan and Iraq.” he said. “So what we’re utilizing at our installations is an active thing. It’s not just monitoring and metering, it’s also active training programs with commanders and sergeant majors that try to communicate that this is very important. We’ve got to get back into a culture that says that this is not the energy manager’s problem, it’s our problem. And that culture is going to assist you when you go back into the theater.”

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