HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (May 13, 2019) – The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, provided instructors for the Army National Guard’s annual energy training April 8-12 at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The training brings together energy managers from across the National Guard as part of an effort to help ensure they have the tools to meet Army energy goals.
Serving as instructors were subject-matter experts from eight Huntsville Center energy-focused programs: the Commercial Utilities Program, Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program, Utility Energy Services Contracting, Energy Savings and Performance Contracting, Power Purchase Agreement, Resource Efficiency Managers, Army Central Metering Program and the associated Meter Data Management System, and Utility Monitoring and Control Systems.
Topics included utility invoice analysis, understanding current energy regulations, alternative financing, the building commissioning process, advanced meter troubleshooting, and others.
One such instructor was Darren Hunter, a project manager and public utilities specialist with the Commercial Utilities Program, who covered the topic of utility invoice analysis. Though he has only been with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for about three months, he drew from his more than 33 years’ experience working for Huntsville Utilities for his presentation.
“Our goal was to help them identify critical areas on their utility bill invoices involving electricity, water, natural gas and waste water, and to help them understand the utility bill components, the fundamentals that make up how they compute the bills, the rates and metering techniques,” said Hunter, who added that attendees’ experience levels as energy managers ranged from decades-worth to less than a year.
Hunter stressed that a major part of invoice analysis is knowing how to look for billing errors, metering misreads, and any unusual usage or cost patterns. The point was to identify anything that might yield future cost savings, cost avoidance, or even refunds.
“It takes time to analyze an invoice,” Hunter said. “We’re just trying to tell them there are some savings you can get if you take time to analyze it and verify you’re not getting billed incorrectly. For utility companies, it’s an easy pattern for them, and they can make errors that go unnoticed. There are only certain times utility companies will make corrections due to statutes of limitations – usually it’s 36 months – so if [mistakes go unnoticed], the opportunity to recoup the cost refunds could be missed.”
Another instructor from Huntsville Center was Paul McCarty, a mechanical engineer with the Engineering Directorate and the Utility Monitoring and Control Systems Mandatory Center of Expertise. McCarty’s topic was building commissioning, a process by which facility managers ensure a building is operating according to its intended design and as efficiently as possible.
Commissioning applies to a spectrum of functions including plumbing, mechanical operation, security and fire safety, but McCarty said roughly three-fourths of the commissioning process has to do with utility systems such as heating, air conditioning, lighting, sensors and water, as well as their associated controls and monitoring systems.
McCarty was armed with guiding principles such as “one size does not fit all,” “cool and heat people and not spaces,” and “look at system efficiency and not just equipment efficiency.” Behind these deceptively simple principles were examples filled with complexities.
One example was of a National Guard facility in Paducah, Kentucky, that had elicited an unusually high number of complaints due to heating and cooling problems. The feedback resulted in a retro-commissioning at the request of the Department of Military Affairs. Whereas the commissioning process is for brand-new facilities, “retro-commissioning” is for facilities that have already been in use.
“The investigation and testing of the facility’s systems revealed that the primary culprit for the comfort and performance issues was the envelope, specifically the roof to exterior wall transition and metal ribs encapsulating the structural columns,” he said. “Air was found to be infiltrating into interior spaces through the transition joints into the space between the thermal barrier and metal roof.”
As complex and specific a problem this might have been, it fell under the guiding principle of “look at system efficiency and not equipment efficiency.”
“What a lot of energy managers might do is they’ll have a piece of equipment that’s really efficient, but then they don’t look at the whole building-wide system,” he said. “You can have a bunch of efficient components and combine them in the wrong way, and the system becomes inefficient.”
Falling under the “one size does not fit all” principle, McCarty used the example of Huntsville Center engineering two different sets of solutions to improve energy efficiency for two similar buildings in different locations. One set of upgrades helped reduce energy consumption by 75 percent for a facility at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, and a completely different set of upgrades reduced the energy consumption by 74 percent for a similar building in Garmisch, Germany.
“They were really responsive,” McCarty said of the attendees who quickly exhausted his supply of presentation handouts. “After the presentation, we probably had 15 or 20 minutes of interaction for just questions and answers. They were really interested in the information I had to give them.”
To learn more about Huntsville Center’s energy programs, visit www.hnc.usace.army.mil/Missions/Installation-Support-and-Programs-Management/Energy-Landing-page.