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SMC Saving Energy, Saving Money

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE,Calif. -- Most people would agree saving energy, especially when it saves money and resources, is a good thing. But developing concrete ways that conserve and actually produce tangible results can often be difficult to accomplish. The Los Angeles Air Force Base Energy Manager, Ed Wilson, and his team have managed to do just that.

The lighting upgrades, which primarily work off motion-occupancy sensors in the main office areas, corridors, restrooms and break-rooms are saving energy. Also, daylighting sensors that pick up the amount of lighting that is coming from outside into the work space automatically turn off the perimeter lighting when not in use. This practice also saves money.

"A lighting project typically pays for itself in three to five years," said Wilson. "Not all projects have that same return on investment, but generally what you try to do is have a project that will return its cost within ten years," he said. "Usually the lifecycle on a project is about twenty years, so if you do an HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning ) project, and you can get it to pay for itself within ten to fifteen years, you go well within the lifecycle of that piece of equipment," he said.

The photovoltaic panels placed above the east-side parking lots of the base will most likely pay for themselves within ten to fifteen years out, said Wilson, which is well within the guidelines of the federal government. The interesting part about solar panels, he said, is the technology is advancing so rapidly, the base will most likely not run the solar panels through their full life expectancy. "We will probably find a point in time when the new technology is so efficient that it will actually pay for itself," he said. "The technology is advancing very, very rapidly right now."

Even though saving money is reason enough to implement change, there are several government mandates driving the actions of Los Angeles and other Air Force bases. Executive Order 13423, which primarily focuses on energy, demands a 30-percent energy reduction by 2015 (using 2003 as the baseline year). Wilson says Los Angeles AFB is well on its way to achieving that goal. Executive Order 13514 focuses on water conservation and greenhouse gas emissions, and the requirement is to reduce emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.

"That sounds like it's a long time away," said Wilson, "but there's going to be a great deal of momentum that's needed to bring that process along and 2050 will be here before you know it."

Future projects Wilson and his team are working on include installing more PV panels on the roofs and ground-source heat pumps, which will help to increase renewable technology Renewable technology involves harnessing energy that comes from natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat, which are renewable , or naturally replenished.

But among the conservation achievements our people have made, Wilson thinks changing the culture has been the biggest improvement. Base personnel are more accepting of using renewable resources, he explained. At first, there was a lot of resistance. He went on to mention that people didn't understand why they were doing certain things--why they were changing the temperatures of the buildings, why they were putting in a certain type of lighting fixture, why they had motion sensors. He also said people didn't understand why they were using recycled water in the toilets and urinals and on the landscaping.

They felt it might be a health hazard, he said. Of course, it took a little bit of time, training and a level of people's acceptance and awareness to become comfortable with these changes, he said.

And change they have. As Los Angeles Air Force Base looks to the horizon, it's a brighter, less costly future. Real progress in energy conservation, it would seem, can't just consist of energy projects, but must also involve everyone on base being aware of, and applying, conservation practices.