FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 8, 2011) -- The boom in new construction at Fort Lee has also brought energy-efficient improvements that will help the installation reduce its "carbon footprint."

One example is geothermal heating and cooling systems, which use the earth's core temperature to warm or cool a structure.

Currently, there are two barracks under construction that will incorporate this renewable-energy technology, said Gary Ogden, chief of operations, Directorate of Public Works and Logistics.

Both structures are expected to be completed in fiscal year 2012.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems utilize wells and pipes to circulate water through a closed-loop system. In the summer, heat is removed from the building and absorbed by the ground. It works the same way in the winter -- only in reverse.

"So we're not burning fossil fuels -- natural gas, oil, diesel or anything like that -- to heat or cool the air," said Ogden. "We're just taking advantage of the temperature difference between the water and the earth to transfer heat or cold air to the building."

Geothermal systems are very efficient. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the systems generally use 20-25 percent less electricity than conventional heating and cooling systems. Additionally, they are about 40 percent more efficient in the winter than regular heat pumps.

"The energy savings are there," said Ogden, "but only when they are incorporated into a new building."

Ogden said adding geothermal systems to existing structures are not cost-effective because utility rates here are low and a justification can't be made to add them. Additionally, the wells require a lot of space that must be located adjacent to the structure. Fort Lee doesn't have an abundance of open spaces, so that would be an issue.

When geothermal systems are included in the design of a new building, the savings are significant, but not initially, due to cost.

"But your operating cost over the life of the building is much less," said Ogden. "So if you're looking for the cheapest first price, you probably wouldn't purchase a geothermal system."

Geothermal systems are part of government efforts to increase the use of renewable energy sources.

"The Army and DOD have specific goals in mind for the percentage of energy consumed at each installation," said Ogden. "A certain percentage of that energy consumed must be renewable."

In fact, Congress has mandated that 25 percent of the Department of Defense's energy consumption come from renewable sources by 2025. DoD is the largest consumer of energy within the government.

To reach its goals, Ogden said Fort Lee is engaged in ongoing assessments to determine how to best proceed as a responsible energy consumer while meeting mission requirements. Various alternative means of renewable-energy sources have been considered to include solar and wind.

"We're constantly trying to find ways to save energy here at Fort Lee," said Ogden.
Ogden stressed that while the installation moves to increase its energy efficiency, each individual living or working here can be a part of the effort.

"One of the best ways you can save energy is by turning something off," said Ogden. "A piece of equipment can never use less energy than when it's not running. There have been estimates that we can reduce our energy by 10-15 percent if we could just get people to modify their behavior."