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Vendors and environmental professionals showed off some of the latest in green technology at an energy fair onboard Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren on Oct. 25.

In the era of fiscal austerity, one may be forgiven for assuming the Navy's march toward green energy takes a back seat to the reality of budget pressure. In fact, vendors demonstrated how green technology and cost savings are often one in the same. Moreover, the upfront investment required to generate cost savings are not as steep as commonly thought.

The Joint Venture LLC of North Island and Centennial Contractors (NICC) is a familiar name to many in the military's National Capital Region. The construction company currently manages job order contracts for Naval Facilities Command Washington's (NAVFACWASH's) office in Dahlgren. Casual observers may not have noticed the company's incorporation of green technology into some of Dahlgren's latest projects, but an intelligent irrigation system on Dahlgren's new soccer field, window modifications and recycling old building materials are already providing savings, local NICC officials said.

Intelligent irrigation uses a grid of sensors in the ground of Dahlgren's new soccer field to ensure that sprinklers only operate when watering is needed. "If it's raining, [sprinklers] won't go off," said Tracy Despres, office manager at NICC's Dahlgren office. "That should save quite a bit of water."

According to Steve Szemes, senior project general manager for NICC, the intelligent part of the irrigation system, the sensors, was paid for by his company. NICC's goal, said Szemes, is to test out how the new technology works. What he has found thus far is that the system not only turns off the sprinklers when it rains, it also accounts for differences in soil types.

"For some reason, half the field was well-watered," said Szemes of Dahlgren's new soccer field. "In that field, there is different soil: part of it is clay, part of it is sandy. The clay holds water, so if you water that as much as the sandy side, you can rot the ground."

The smarter watering regimen translates to water, landscaping and electrical cost savings, said Szemes.

Another cost-effective, green improvement that has taken root in Dahlgren is solar film. The thin film improves the energy efficiency of existing windows, without incurring the high cost of totally replacing windows. The film is tailored to filter out various spectrums of light energy; in the case of Building 1450 in Dahlgren, the film chosen blocks heat from passing through windows in the summertime.

"I love projects like this because it's not fancy and it's not a huge investment," said Szemes.

At another renovation in Dahlgren, NICC found that significant cost savings can be achieved by recycling used building materials, such as old roofing shingles. This, combined with the installation of new, more energy-efficient shingles, can cut down on the time needed to see a return on green investment. Instead of paying for old shingles to be removed, the Navy receives payment for its old materials.

"Our dumping fees were less than half of what they normally are," said Szemes. "The Navy got a savings... it was a win-win. It was less money for them to pay on construction."

Lighting is an area where vast improvements in energy efficiency have been achieved in the last few years, yet environmental planners face a steep cost barrier when making the switch to more efficient florescent bulbs. The problem: new, efficient T5 lights are too short to fit into the same light fixture as the older T8 and T12 bulbs. Jon Kalb, representative for Always Earth Friendly, demonstrated a surprisingly simple solution.

His product, a self-ballasted T5 retrofit adapter, allows T5 bulbs to fit into the more common T8 and T12 fixtures. Across an installation with as many florescent light fixtures as Dahlgren, the cost savings are obvious. "On a large scale like a military base, [the savings] can add up to large numbers," said Kalb.

Kalb added that while large-scale projects like wind and solar get a lot of attention, "low-hanging fruit" such as more efficient lighting can offer "huge" savings potential.

While rapidly-developing technology offers many large and small green solutions, Jeff Creasey, energy manager for NAVFACWASH, emphasized the importance of personal responsibility in making the Navy a more efficient user of energy. After all, low-hanging fruit is a concept that applies to behavior as well as technology.

"Energy awareness is the biggest thing," he said. "We have a building energy monitoring (BEM) program that is on our base. A person is assigned to every building and they have been trained, they have a checklist to go through, to make sure people power down their computers and turn off lights at night and get rid of the little dorm-type refrigerators and heaters."

Creasey praised the efforts of Dahlgren's building energy managers, who have taken on the collateral duty. "The BEM program is a big deal because they are the eyes and the ears of energy management," he said.

"Kudos to the BEM program for making a difference. We're seeing a difference, but it can be hard to tell on base, because a lot of stuff is mission-critical."

Creasey urged all personnel assigned to Dahlgren to take the time to be aware of energy use. Staying on top of repairs needed around the workspace, for instance, can pay a large return if enough folks do the right thing.