GSA testing new energy-saving technologies at federal buildings

Wednesday - 9/26/2012, 7:58pm EDT

The General Services Administration plans to roll out a dozen new technologies designed to better measure and manage energy use in federal facilities, the agency announced Wednesday.

GSA will install the new technologies in federal buildings across the country as part of the agency's Green Proving Ground program.

"This innovative program is another example of GSA leading the way for the federal government," said Dorothy Robyn, the newly appointed head of the agency's Public Buildings Service, in a statement. "By testing the effectiveness of these technologies, GSA is finding new ways that federal buildings across the nation can save both energy and taxpayer dollars.

Among the technologies to bet tested is a water-saving, wireless irrigation system that turns the simple act of watering the lawn into a data-driven, automated process. The tool measures soil moisture at the root level, wirelessly transmits and stores that data on cloud servers and, when necessary, triggers sprinkler systems.

Electrochromic windows, which transition from a clear to an opaque facade, will be installed to optimize daylight and better regulate indoor temperatures. Other technologies include new lighting, heating and power-generation technologies.

GSA cites previous sustainability success

The expanded testing comes as GSA released its latest assessment of two other technologies that underwent full-scale evaluations over the past year.

GSA evaluated responsive-lighting systems at five federal buildings in Californa and Nevada. This includes workstation-specific lighting — lighting individual cubicles for example, as opposed to the entire room — dimmers and sensors. The results showed 27 percent to 63 percent in energy cost-savings.

GSA also tested advanced power strips to better manage "plug-load energy consumption" at eight federal buildings in the mid-Atlantic region. The plethora of devices employees plug in at the office, including smartphones and computers, draws on the energy supply even when not in use. GSA estimates these so-called "plug loads" account for as much as 25 percent of an office building's total energy consumption.

Advanced power strips allow employees to set timers specifying when circuits can be switched off, and GSA found the technology reduced plug-load energy consumption by 26 percent.

GSA's Green Proving Ground program, which aims to transform the agency's 9,600 properties into test-beds of sustainable technologies was spurred by an October 2009 executive order calling for a broad federal sustainability strategy.

In July, GSA released an updated version of its Sustainable Facilities Tool to help agencies make their facilities more energy-efficient.

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