CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- U.S. Army Garrison Benelux employees put the garrison on the map and received a Secretary-of-the-Army Energy and Water Management Award during a ceremony held Aug. 11 in Providence, Rhode Island.

The team, represented by Mélanie Chaballe, Energy Manager, won in the Small Group Category in Renewables/ Alternatives for its Energy Conservation Investment Program 451-kilowatt solar panel array.

Though Chaballe was in the spotlight during the ceremony, she insists on the fact that other people significantly contributed to the success of the project.

"This couldn't have been successful without the help and knowledge of our Directorate of Public Works, Operations and Maintenance, electrical team, as they made sure from the design phase to the construction phase that the equipment selected by the Corps of Engineers and the contractors was adequate and then installed correctly in order to get a fully operational system at the end, " Chaballe said.

Bernard Leturcq, Chief Electrical Branch and electricians Michel Delhaise, Olivier Hannecart, Jacques Jennart, Sylvain L'Hermite and Willy Pestiaux who couldn't make it to the ceremony were key players in the awarded project.

"As members of DPW, we serve as a bridge between different actors such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, electricity distribution companies, network managers and end users," Leturcq said. "Our challenge was to integrate a new system without altering the existing installations. We managed to do it thanks, among others, to the knowledge of experienced electricians who are familiar with the existing electrical installations."

The solar array, which has been operational since September 2014, has helped the garrison save about $60,000 annually.

"Since September 2014, the array has produced more than 900,000 kilowatt-hours, Chaballe said. "It corresponds to the energy consumption of one of the garrison's houses in Attre over 160 years."

Chaballe is also trying to obtain an exception to policy to benefit from the green certificates program, which would add "an extra $60,000" in energy savings, she said.

The solar-array project was first put on the table in 2009 by Chaballe's predecessor, Dorothée Dupuis.

"I took over the project and resubmitted it year after year in the Energy Conservation Investment Program until it got selected for funding in fiscal year 2013," Chaballe said.

Chaballe took advantage of that delay to exploit more favorable market conditions, which allowed the team to build a 451-kw array instead of the 187 kw originally planned for.

The solar array not only helps the garrison save thousands of dollars every year but also has a significant impact on its environmental footprint.

"One of the best achievements of this project was the integration of the solar array system into the existing high-voltage electricity loop that supplies all facilities on Chièvres Air Base," Chaballe said. "Therefore, all the green electricity produced by the solar panels is distributed to any base facility and lowers the intake from the electricity supplier."

The resulting decrease in electric power consumption helped the garrison reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 317 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The success of the solar array has paved the way for more ideas and projects.

"There are so many projects I would like to achieve," Chaballe said. "I would love to have smart meters for electricity, gas/fuel and water in every building, connected to the network to be able to analyze the consumption data, highlight water leaks quicker, check heating fuel or gas consumptions."

The data collected could help the team spot energy or water wastes and implement projects to reduce energy and water consumption.

"In parallel, I would like to investigate the possibility to install a combined heat and power system, and also extend our renewable energy production on our different installations, based on our current Transformation," Chaballe said.