One thing it is not is flashy. In most cases, that is. But not in all. The Better Buildings Challenge’s SWAP program pits teams from two organizations do walk-throughs of each other’s facilities to look for ways to improve energy efficiency. The most recent SWAP — between two legendary military training centers — turned up some significant areas in which both can improve. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE).
The first “swap” was between a Whole Foods grocery store and a Hilton Hotel in San Francisco. Here are the videos from those encounters as well as an Energy Manager Today podcast with Randy Gaines, the Vice President of Operations and New Business Development for Hilton Worldwide.
This year’s swap was had even more juice. A hotel and a grocery have no natural rivalry. This year’s did. This SWAP pitted the Air Force Academy against The Naval Academy. The two participants also have more in common than last year’s: Both are large campus environments with responsibility for housing, feeding, training and otherwise caring for large groups of people. It was good guys versus good guys.
The similarities were noted by Jabe Nekula, the Chief Electrical Engineer in the Public Works Department at the U.S. Naval Academy, which is in Annapolis. “I feel that in terms of the types and usage of spaces there are a lot of familiarities, [maybe] more than differences,” he told Energy Manager Today. “I think in terms of the differences many stem from the fact the cadets have many much older buildings…The Air Force Academy has more modern facilities.”
Russell Hume, the Energy Program Manager and Mechanical Engineer for the U.S. Air Force Academy, added that climate was a key difference. In Annapolis, he said, “there was humidity that you don’t have to deal with at the Air Force Academy” with is near Colorado Springs, CO.
The videos show Hume and Nekula and others wandering through different parts of both facilities. A particularly interesting element of the discussion was a breezeway in Fairchild Hall, a main building on the AFA campus. Old fashion, almost ceiling to floor single pane windows overheat the space on a sunny day. Nekula provided his take on possible ways to meet the challenge – including building a second wall inside the one that exists.
The first two episodes of the challenge featured visits to each of the campuses. The third focused on the recommendations the academies made to each other. The suggestions were common sense: Turn off equipment and lights when they are not in use, upgrade the HVAC systems, adjust set points for refrigeration where appropriate, take advantage of natural lights where possible, turn off ventilation in unoccupied areas, utilize bio digesters to leverage the huge amount of food waste, plant green roofs and implement solar power.
A realization on the part of the participants is that a fresh set of eyes can be very valuable. For instance, a project that was not undertaken a decade ago for budgetary reasons may have subsequently been bypassed – even when funding was available — simply because it was bypassed the first time. Having outsiders point out the value of that undertaking may lead it to be put back on the agenda.
A second way in which outsiders help is in seeing problems from a different perspective. For instance, the breezeway issue in Fairchild Hall is caused as much by heat transfer through the window mullions as the glass itself. That factor – which was hiding in plain sight to people who see it every day – is important to address.
Walk-throughs drive home the point that technology changes themselves are not enough. For instance, LEDs are a big improvement over legacy lighting. But even more is gained if they are linked to sensors that turn them off when a room is empty. Such easy gains are more obvious to people see the space for the first time. “Don’t ever stop taking it down the field,” Nekula said. “Just because you found other low hanging fruit doesn’t mean you should stop trying to find places to improve.”
This version of the SWAP program was carefully chosen, according to Maria Vargas, the Director of the DoE’s Better Buildings Challenge and SWAP host. “This SWAP killed two birds with one stone,” she said. “It highlighted federal leadership and, secondly, shows what is possible in institutes of higher learning.”
Clearly, the SWAP project is aimed at popularizing energy efficiency. Cursory walk-throughs are only the most preliminary step of determining where problems are, how they can be corrected, the priority they should be given and a host of other details. But that isn’t the goal of the SWAP program. The aim is to make energy efficiency cool. The giveaway that SWAP is focusing on using modern approaches to capture public attention: There even is a SWAP blooper video on YouTube.