Green goal: Argonne wins federal award for energy savings

By Louise LernerOctober 19, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory won a 2010 Federal Energy and Water Management Award for its aggressive energy savings plan, which relies on in-house personnel to find creative ways to reduce energy. The lab also employs outside companies for larger projects.

The federal awards recognize individuals, groups or agencies for outstanding contributions in energy efficiency, water conservation and bringing advanced, renewable energy technology to federal facilities.

Instead of bringing in outside consultants, Argonne reduced costs by using its own team of engineers and maintenance mechanics to identify projects to save energy. When the projects save money, Argonne reinvests those funds in additional projects. In 2009, Argonne ran 14 in-house projects that together saved nine megawatt-hours of power—enough to power 6,000 households.

The projects also saved nine million gallons of fresh water and avoided releasing 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thirteen more 2010 projects are nearing completion.

"When faced with a tremendous challenge such as the federal energy reduction goal, the knee-jerk approach is often to hire expensive consultants and outside contractors," said Argonne energy manager Mike Dunn. "The program is an excellent example of how we can use the collective talent of the people actually running the facilities for quick, cost-effective results."

Argonne's Facilities Management and Services division fixed pipes, changed old mercury vapor light fixtures for new fluorescent ones and replaced the site's aging water tower heating system. Nineteen-sixties-era exit signs were replaced with new energy-efficient fluorescent lights. The lab also installed outdoor light poles powered by small wind turbines and solar panels; the lights run entirely off the grid, and their battery packs can store enough energy to power the light for three days without sun or wind.

To complement its in-house work, Argonne also contracts with energy companies to finance larger-scale projects. A company can offer capital funding and expertise, and Argonne pays the loan back over time with the cost savings accumulated from the project. These can finance green building renovations or new energy plants, for example, which require significant capital funding.

For example, Argonne used such a contract to upgrade the lighting control system at its synchrotron, the Advanced Photon Source (APS), which operates day and night so that researchers around the world can conduct research in dozens of areas of science. The APS lighting can now be centrally programmed to reduce energy usage at off-peak hours. This effort, coupled with other energy savings measures, eliminates an estimated 12,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions every year.