Ever wondered how military bases work to save energy? Just ask BCS’ expert team that provides energy engineering program support to the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineering Center Energy Directorate—conducting energy audits, developing energy savings plans, creating energy awareness programs, and more. Check out our Q&A with BCS Consultant Charlie Dunn to learn what it’s like to work as an Air Force resource efficiency manager (REM).
Q: How long have you been supporting the Air Force as an REM?
A: I started supporting Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee in 2014 and was an REM there for three years. This July, I began supporting Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. There are nine total Air Force Reserve bases, and the Air Force has three REMs split between these bases—each REM supports three of the nine bases. I am based at Dobbins, but I also work at Homestead Air Reserve Base and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Q: What are REMs and what do they do?
A: REMs were authorized by an act of Congress, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The law also mandated that federal agencies had to reduce their energy efficiency by 3% per year. The job of the REM is to make that happen and to provide advice to the energy team on base. Arnold Air Force Base, where I worked previously, is one of the biggest energy consumers in the Air Force, and the Air Force is the biggest energy consumer in the U.S. government. So, that justifies having someone in the REM role full-time.
The main role for REMs in the Reserve Command is conducting energy audits, which are also mandated by law. At least every four years, you have to audit all the buildings that make up 75% of an installation’s energy usage. Energy audits involve reviewing the details of these buildings’ energy consumption; then, you suggest energy efficiency improvements. Right now, I am leading an energy audit of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
In general, you’re supposed to look for opportunities to save energy. Something that’s really easy to do is to recommend changing the base’s lighting to LEDs. LED lighting saves a lot of electricity, particularly if the base is currently using old lighting, like metal-halide or incandescent bulbs. This old lighting uses a lot of energy because it generates a lot of heat as well as light. LEDs don’t generate any heat, so they are more efficient and last a lot longer. Being an REM means looking for anything that uses energy and seeing if you can make it more efficient.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: I get to work with a lot of new technology, as brand new technology is often where you get the greatest energy efficiency gains. For example, now data centers are using what is called “immersion cooling,” where you run a mineral oil over the electronics, which reduces heat and cools the hardware. You can run a data center without air conditioning—which saves a lot of energy—because it’s not air that’s cooling the electronics; it’s the fluid. That part of the job is fun for an engineer. Since the job has to do with energy, you also get to work with all the different departments on base, which is interesting. Everybody uses energy.
Q: Do you have any advice for implementing energy efficiency projects as an REM?
A: You’ll have the most success if you find what a department’s needs are first, what they’re struggling with, and then find the energy savings that can also provide a solution to their problems. You will have a much easier time implementing energy savings if they see them as solving their existing problems. In contrast, if you propose energy savings that they perceive as disruptive or adding work to what they’re doing, you will not get very far. For example, if people in one end of a building are hot all the time and the people at other end of the building are freezing and using space heaters, the problem is that people are very uncomfortable. Maybe you can find a solution to make the air conditioning more efficient, which can solve that problem and save energy at the same time.
Q: What is a fun fact about yourself?
A: I have six kids and sixteen grandkids, and three of those grandkids are a set of triplets (5 years old).