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A large solar array in a grassy field with mountains in the background.

This 4.7 megawatt solar photovoltaic array at Ft. Carson Army Base in Colorado Springs is just one piece of a complex strategy to cut energy intensity at the base and reach the Army's Net Zero Energy Initiative goals.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Helping Fort Carson Meet DOD Energy Goals

NREL's diverse projects with the Department of Defense at Fort Carson guide energy improvements that are moving the Army toward its visionary energy goals.

As the nation's largest single user of energy—spending an estimated $19 billion on fuel and electricity in 2013—the Department of Defense (DOD) is highly focused on advancing energy security, mitigating costs, and enhancing military capability through energy improvements.

Due to its leadership in researching, developing, and coordinating energy solutions to power our nation's homes, businesses, and transportation, NREL is strategically positioned to help DOD accelerate the implementation of its clean energy initiatives. For several years and through multiple agreements, NREL has brought this expertise to its partnership with a Colorado neighbor to the south, Fort Carson, Colorado.

The U.S. Army garrison mountain post, established in 1942 outside Colorado Springs, is the second largest employer in the state of Colorado and has a $1.3 billion per year impact on the local economy. Fort Carson hosts 10,000 soldiers—7,000 single soldiers in barracks and about 3,000 married soldiers in on-base family housing.

The two-mile wide by five-mile long post includes an airfield with six operating gates. In the past five years, Fort Carson's building square footage has increased by about 50%, mainly due to the growth of its soldier population. This growth, in combination with the aggressive energy goals of DOD and the U.S. Army, keeps energy efficiency and renewable energy at the forefront of work there.

NREL has supported Fort Carson on several efficiency projects, formed lasting partnerships, and completed instrumental planning, all of which contributed greatly to Fort Carson's visionary net zero-energy objectives. NREL is helping Fort Carson meet its net zero-energy, water, and waste by 2020 goal by conducting technology demonstrations and providing support for micro grid and buildings projects among other efforts.

"We've been working with Fort Carson for over five years, supporting a wide variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects including a 2-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) power purchase agreement, net zero-energy planning and implementation, electric vehicle integration, microgrid design, technology demonstration projects, and low-energy building design," said NREL Project Lead Kate Anderson.

"Our success at Fort Carson stems from the knowledgeable and motivated energy managers who believe in the mission and always find a way to make economically viable projects happen," said Anderson.

Army Net Zero Energy Initiative

NREL works with nine Army pilot projects to establish energy baselines, estimate energy efficiency and alternative energy potential, evaluate grid interconnection, and develop an implementation plan as part of the Army Net Zero Energy Initiative (NZEI).

A net zero-energy installation produces as much energy onsite as it uses over the course of a year. At Fort Carson, NREL is working with the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy, and Environment to achieve net zero-energy by 2020. Fort Carson volunteered to be an integrated net-zero installation, which means they will be net zero-energy, water, and waste.

The base's goal is to cut energy intensity 30% from 2003 levels by 2015, striving for a 50% reduction by 2020, in addition to its NZEI goals. Several avenues have been used to fund energy efficiency projects including Sustainment, Restoration, and Mod­ernization (SRM); Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP); and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) demonstrations. Several completed and planned construction projects have included renewable energy technologies such as PV, solar hot water, ground source heat pumps, and transpired solar walls.

"NREL's partnership with Fort Carson advances Army energy goals while providing a platform for evaluating generation, energy efficiency, storage, and energy systems integration at a meaningful scale that can be leveraged to achieve national impact," explained Steve Gorin, NREL's director of DOD Energy Programs.

One key component of NREL's work was supporting the completion of a Net Zero-Environmental Assessment for Net Zero implementation. The assessment evaluated more than a dozen sites on Fort Carson, totaling nearly 1,000 acres and documenting the concerns and challenges with developing renewable energy for these sites. This assessment will be a valuable tool moving forward with the evaluation of renewable energy opportunities.

Net Zero-Energy Barracks

In one unique project, Fort Carson is transforming 1950s-era barracks into modern Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified office buildings. In partnership with the General Services Administration and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the NREL team researched methods for reducing energy use in new and existing buildings, focusing on optimum building envelopes, daylighting, behavior change impacts, and advanced retrofit strategies for maximum energy reduction. Renovations to date resulted in reduced energy use in the building envelope; lighting; plug loads; and heating, ventila­tion, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; as well as added renewable energy generation.

In another effort, NREL worked with DOD and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to develop specifications for a system that integrates PV, plug-in electric vehicles, and a renewable energy management unit with a microgrid system at Fort Carson. During this multi-year project, NREL developed critical modeling tools to optimize the components needed to link vehicles to the microgrid. A microgrid that integrates renewable generation and vehicle energy storage with load management components offers energy security, cost savings, and reliability benefits. Through the coordination of generators and loads, the Fort Carson microgrid makes it possible to maintain electricity delivery to a portion of the facility that is critical to sustained operations.

"Fort Carson has been a very valuable partner for NREL as a test bed for new technologies and energy systems integration strategies that we have subsequently applied at other DOD, federal, and commercial campuses," said Anderson.

Gorin agreed, "Army's leadership in implementing clean, secure, and cost effective energy solutions advances both of our missions, and we look forward to continued collaboration that builds upon our past successes."

Partnering: An Engine for Innovation

FALL 2014 / Issue 7

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Editorial Team

  • Kim Adams | Managing Editor
  • Bill Gillies | Creative Director
  • Dennis Schroeder | Photographer
  • Jennifer Josey | Editor
  • Michael Oakley | Web Development
  • Amy Glickson | Web Development
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