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Lab Helps FAA Build Energy-Efficient Control Towers

April 23, 2010 - 10:57am


With help from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and its subcontractor, Redhorse Corporation, the agency that keeps our country’s airports running is bolstering its energy efficiency. The Federal Aviation Administration is developing building plans that save energy — and money — at five airports in the western U.S.

Government agencies are required by law to audit their buildings, so the FAA saw some Recovery Act funding as an opportunity to help fund its energy audits. Air traffic control towers are a vital service for travelers, keeping air traffic free of accidents. Their accompanying base buildings house administrative offices and support systems.

Bill Sandusky, program manager in the PNNL’s Energy and Environment Directorate, says being involved from the start allowed his team to make recommendations that are easier and cheaper to integrate into the final design. Particularly when a construction contractor has already been hired, he says, it is difficult to open the contract for changes without raising the cost.

“The basic advantage is getting things done at the beginning, so you don't have to retrofit measures, which are far more costly,” he says. “The amount of extra effort is not that much to get these energy savings into the final construction and operation specifications.”

Using technical assistance funding provided through the Recovery Act, the FAA asked PNNL to identify proven, yet typically overlooked, energy and water efficiency measures for greener air control towers and base buildings to be built at the airports in Palm Springs and Oakland, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nev. Construction at the Boise, Idaho, and Reno, Nev., airports was already in progress when PNNL got involved, so the laboratory undertook energy and water audits of their existing designs.

In the three new construction projects, Bill says his team was able to identify energy savings that would pay for themselves in one to three years. For example, at Las Vegas, the biggest airport of the three, the team found opportunities to save up to 443,000 kWh each year. These energy savings are expected to translate to $48,000 in savings per year, which means the project will pay for itself in slightly less than three years.

Bill says the energy savings recommendations also form a model for the future, because they can be applied whenever the FAA needs to build new control towers and base buildings.

“The idea here is that maybe it’s not a large amount of savings for these sites, but as the FAA goes forward with future planning activities, the recommendations at these sites will be incorporated into every new construction project they do.”