USAG DAEGU, South Korea -- We consume a lot of energy because it's an essential part of day to day life; we can't live without it. However, excessive use of energy sources such as oil, coal and gas are taking a toll on the planet. In an effort to slow the damage and preserve the environment, many countries are trying to identify and develop alternative energy. Sunlight is one of the renewable energy sources many are considering.
The United States Army Garrison Daegu Department of Public Works directorate has joined in the quest and is currently working on renewable energy projects using sunlight.
The solar tube lighting program began in 2014 as a green, renewable energy project. It harnesses natural sunlight through pipes and utilizes it to brighten up interior spaces without using electricity or light bulbs. As of today, there are eight buildings outfitted with solar tubes at Camp Carroll, and six more due to receive installations.
"We basically utilize natural sunlight on sunny days and distribute the sunlight to the interior spaces," said Joshua J. Seo, garrison energy manager. "Therefore, we put in a large solar tube which is a physical tube on the roof, but it's not connected to any utility systems. There is a technology and a lighting mechanism in every solar tube. Finally, we can make inner spaces bright without using the electricity."
DPW took on this project to meet the Army requirement for renewable energy and green technology (eco-friendly energy products). Considering the land size of the garrison as well as the geographical location, the DPW energy team discovered that other solar-based projects cost too much money, but the solar tube is a relatively inexpensive product that serves as a nice alternative solution for other renewable energy projects.
"We're going to have 6 buildings more that are being installed. It would be completed in July or August, 2018. By the end of next summer, we will have a total of 14 projects. But after the 14 projects are completed, we have a plan to get a few more buildings that are suitable to put up solar tubes. At least 4 more buildings are being considered," said Seo.
Last year, about 1% of Camp Carroll's total energy was utilized through solar tube lighting systems. Though it seems to be a small percentage, it shows a great potential for the project to grow and expand. It is anticipated that about $80,000 per year is saved through this project. The cost of the project depends on the size of the building but the actual cost can range from $30,000 to $450,000 per building.
"Solar tubes definitely have a lot of benefits. When we first took the project, most buildings that we retrofitted with solar tubes had very poor light. They were utilizing really inefficient light bulbs, and they had mercury, which is fairly hazardous to human health," said Seo. "Therefore, we got rid of all the light bulbs and put in the new solar tubes which made the place environmentally-friendly as well giving us a higher safety rating. Also, after the light bulbs had been changed, workers were pleased with the lighting conditions. We can save energy costs as well."
Solar tube lighting does have its drawbacks. For example, when it's cloudy, the solar tubes are nonfunctional because if there's no sun, there's no light being funneled through. So, the energy team decided to set up regular LED lights in the buildings to compensate for days with low light. The problem they experienced in the first couple of years was that some people would turn on the LED lights even though it was sunny outside.
"To solve the problem, we put in control sensors. If it's bright enough, the other lights will turn off automatically. But then, it's a pricy project compared to others. So, that could be another drawback. However, it definitely fits our requirement to meet both renewable energy and green technology," mentioned Seo.
The energy team has been highly successful with the solar tube lighting project, meeting the Army's requirements for green technology and complying with Installation Management Command regulations for renewable energy and green initiatives. In 2017, the garrison energy team received the Secretary of the Army Award for Best Energy Conservation, proving they are the best in their field.
"Renewable energy is great and fancy, but we still have to be mindful about our habits and behaviors toward energy and water usage," said Seo. "We believe everyone's small attention makes big a difference to our overall energy and waste reduction. We certainly hope everyone is in with making USAG Daegu a greener community to live and work."