Maxwell AFB civil engineers use construction technology to cut energy costs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gregory Brook
  • 42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

During a time when government shutdown, furlough and recapitalization are a part of the military landscape, Airmen are constantly looking for ways to save money for the Air Force. 

The 42nd Civil Engineer Squadron here is doing more than just recycling and trading out incandescent light bulbs to save energy. These engineers are planning, sketching and studying how to leverage construction technology to save the Air Force millions over the next decade. 

Maxwell Air Force Base is using a program called utility energy savings contracting to facilitate this process. It is a DOD and Air Force approved procurement vehicle that allows federal facilities to directly negotiate energy conservation implementation work with the utilities that serve the base. 

"The base is starting direct negotiations with Alabama Power Company and Alabama Gas Corporation in an effort to reduce bills and increase efficiency," said Larry Rowland, the 42nd CES base energy manager. "The less energy the Air Force uses and the more service members save reduces costs and enhances the ability to accomplish the mission. Energy impacts our readiness and the money we can shave off our utility expenditures can go directly to combat readiness or training depending on the function of the base." 

Every year, Maxwell spends approximately $15 million on utility costs, including electricity, gas and water.

"The environment here provides challenges to energy conservation," Rowland said. "We are very reliant on air conditioning and heating, partly because Maxwell is an education base with lots of classrooms with 20-30 students in each daily." 

According to civil engineer officials, Maxwell's single biggest expense is electricity for air conditioning; however there are other ways the base can save money on energy.

"Energy conservation is a broad concept," said Kristi Rollins, a 42nd CES community planner. "Landscaping and buildings in general take energy and resources to maintain. We are looking at the buildings that we are designing, and we try to ensure they are oriented properly so they need to use less energy. In addition, we are using river water from the Alabama River to irrigate our golf courses, which saves the base $125,000 per year." 

Cities and bases across the country provide inspiration for innovative ways in which to save energy. Cities like Boston, the most energy efficient city in the U.S. based on analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which generates 25 percent of its own power using solar panel fields. These cities and bases set the example by implementing energy saving initiatives that can be repeated here and at other Air Force bases. 

One of the major initiatives the team here is undertaking is using technology to help reduce energy consumption and eliminate waste. 

Currently, Maxwell employs an energy management system that remotely monitors and controls heating and cooling in many of the larger buildings on base. The system, monitored by an operator, can tell if a room is getting too hot or cold while tracking how the building's heating and cooling systems are performing. When necessary, adjustments to temperature set-points and system schedules can be made that will meet the needs of the mission while conserving energy. 

"In addition to energy management systems we are looking at lighting projects that will turn the lights off when no one is around and dim them to take advantage of natural light coming in from windows. We call it 'light harvesting,'" Rowland said.

Other initiatives base civil engineers are considering include occupancy based temperature setback systems in dormitories. The temperature setback system targets a specific room and adjusts the temperature to a specific range until the resident returns.

The system comes directly from observing civilian industry, specifically hotels, and adapting it to military use, Rowland  said.

"Like any other cost-control measure, you first have to eliminate waste," Rowland said. "It can be as simple as turning off the lights. We all forget sometimes. When people start to forget enough, then you need to look into ways of controlling it. 

"Energy conservation is everyone's job and it is to everyone's benefit on base," Rowland said.

Designated by the Department of Defense, Energy Awareness Month, celebrated in October, focuses on informing the base populace about the need to conserve energy. 

The initiative focuses on increasing renewable sources of energy and fostering a culture of conservation. Renewable energy increases base security by reducing reliance on outside systems vulnerable to attack and providing a backup power source in case of emergency. 

Every Airman -- military, civilian and contractor -- is encouraged to take energy awareness training on the AFCEC Advanced Distance Learning System at