GSA, Energy going alternative to run its buildings

Wednesday - 10/6/2010, 7:30am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The White House's announcement Tuesday that it will put solar panels back on the roof of the residence and add a solar water heater as well puts them well behind many executive branch agencies.

The departments of Energy, Defense and Commerce and the General Services Administration are among those who have been drawing energy from the sun or other renewable energy sources for many years.

But the decision to transform 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. by the end of this spring could have a ripple effect across the government and the country, said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

"The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the United States, racking up a $25 billion electricity and fuel bill in 2008," she said during her speech Tuesday at the GreenGov Symposium sponsored by CEQ and The George Washington University in Washington. "Meeting just one of our goals, for example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent, will cut federal energy use by the equivalent of 205 million barrels of oil and avoid between $8-and-$11 billion in energy costs over the next decade."

The White House's solar panels will be a part of Energy's demonstration project.

"It's been a long time since we've had them up there," said Steven Chu, Energy Secretary. "The project will show American solar technology is available, reliable and ready to install in homes throughout the country."

The National Park Service will manage the solar panel project, said Robert Peck, commissioner of GSA's Public Building Service.

He said if solar panels come to the West Wing or Old Executive Office Building, GSA would handle that effort.

"There were solar panels on the White House before and technology has much improved," Peck said. "We have some places for example in Indiana, where we are trying four different kinds of solar panels on a roof. So we are looking for every opportunity to test them out and see what works."

GSA is spending billions of dollars in Recovery Act funds to bring solar and other renewable energy projects to federal buildings.

Peck said there are both large ones such as GSA's own headquarter renovation and several small ones, which are acting as demonstration projects.

"We have geothermal at a border station in Maine that we think will cut down energy use significantly," he said. "We've looked at the use of solar chimneys at a border station in New Mexico. So far those are some of my favorite projects."

Energy also is taking specific steps to green many of its laboratories.

Chu said in June he issued a memo that said all new roofs must be white or cool roofs, unless the laboratory can prove that a black roof will not save money.

Between 2005 and 2010, Energy replaced 2.5 million square feet of roofs with cool or light colored roofs. Chu estimated the department would save $13 million over the next 20 years.

"Because a roof is white and not black, it doesn't absorb as much heat and the sunlight energy is reflected back to space instead of heating up the building and using more air conditioning," he said. "This is very important because it's visible light there is less of a greenhouse effect and it bounces back into space. If we took all the urban roofs and pavements and made them lighter colors…it's the equivalent of eliminating carbon emissions of all the world's automobiles for 11 years."

In addition to cool roofs, Chu said Energy is looking at sensors in buildings that would work similarly to those in cars or airplanes that regulate the temperature of the cabin.

"The buildings could be automatically tuned," he said. "We think that we could decrease the cost of energy consumption buildings by a factor of 4, 75 percent decrease in energy. Half of that will not cost anything more and the next half will pay for itself in less than 10 years."

Energy also is considering adding submeters to specific offices or floors in the department.

He said the agency will hold a competition to see which office or floor could save the most energy.

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