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Sustainable energy: From bases to battlefields

By Sgt. Marcy Sanchez | | August 22, 2013


Global solutions to energy conservation and alternative fuels have sparked interests in the United States with many programs dedicated to producing and testing renewable energy to assist in future consumption of energy in a world that has quadrupled in population in the last 100 years.

Renewable energy produces energy output with minimal consumption of resources as well as minimal output of environmentally hazardous wastes. Some of the methods of conservation and principal sustainable energy sources include solar (thermal and photovoltaic), wind, geothermal and ocean.

Although a very “green” process, renewable energy has been described as difficult to harvest since the initial cost of the equipment involved is expensive when compared to using fossil fuels to accomplish the job.

Across the world United States military installations have been tasked by the Secretary of Defense with reducing energy consumption and producing 50 percent of energy requirements from alternative sources by 2020.

As part of the Installations Energy Strategy, five lines of operation have been established to provide a comprehensive approach to the Secretary of Defense’s energy goals. These are energy ethos, energy information, energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuels, and energy security.

The Marine Corps’ strategy for a “greener” warfighter, is to create a Marine Air Ground Task Force capable of maneuvering from the sea, and only requiring liquid fuel for mobility systems once ashore.

To do so, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort has installed and planned for energy conserving, and sustainable energy methods that will in time lower costs for maintaining and operating the installation.

“We installed a base-wide energy management system,” said Neil Tisdale, the utilities director and energy manager for MCAS Beaufort. “It changes temperatures of buildings to schedule when people will be in the building and starts cooling [the building] before they get there.”

Tisdale has been heading the program since 2001 and has since networked 105 buildings aboard the installation to the management system. Other initiatives to conserve energy aboard the installation include geothermal heat pumps, switching out lamps throughout the base to more energy-efficient light bulbs, installing chiller plants in certain facilities to assist in air conditioning and heating and using solar energy in both thermal and photovoltaic forms.

Other energy improvements include the use of E85 ethanol fuel to power some non-tactical vehicles, electric engine vehicles and employing natural gas to produce energy.

“We have an energy plant that houses a General Electric Jenbacher engine, a 1000 kilowatt generator on the end of a 20 cylinder natural gas engine,” said Tisdale. “[The engine] takes natural gas and runs to produce electricity while being cooled off by water which provides heating and hot water to the barracks, medical and dental facilities and the mess hall.

“The natural gas prices are really low and it cost less money to burn natural gas to make electricity than to pay for electricity,” added Tisdale.

Engines such as the GE Jenbacher produce enough power to support multiple facilities at once. The Jenbacher’s output production is minimal when compared to alternate energy sources such as geothermal energy, which the installation also takes advantage of.

“We put geothermal heat pumps in 33 buildings, a more energy efficient method of heat exchange,” said Tisdale.

Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the Earth’s temperature to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems by using the Earth as a heat source in the winter and using the Earth as a heat exchanger that cools in the summer.

As an installation, MCAS Beaufort has reduced energy intensity by 34 percent since beginning the Strategic Sustainable Performance Plan in 2005. The installation has also reduced fossil fuel consumption by 54 percent since 2005.

Part of this reduction is due to recent sustainable energy initiatives on the Air Station.

MCAS Beaufort’s use of photovoltaic solar panels produces more than 400 kilowatts of renewable energy on the base, according to Tisdale.

The Air Station is committed to protecting the environment and promoting energy conservation goals while advancing their mission and continuing to develop and improve methodologies that ensure systematic analysis, informed decision-making, and appropriate budgeting to address these needs.