ORNL continues to reduce its energy footprint


ORNL has 15 buildings that are LEED certified and 23 that are High Performance Sustainable Buildings.ORNL has 15 buildings that are LEED certified and 23 that are High Performance Sustainable Buildings. (hi-res image)

Energy-efficiency was a prevailing theme of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s decade-long modernization campaign. With most new construction complete, the laboratory continues to fine-tune the energy use of its facilities both old and new, from lighting to the systems that cool its supercomputers.

Bryce Hudey, who took over as the sustainability and energy efficiency manager in the Facilities Management Division at the beginning of the year, has spent the last 11 months evaluating the state of ORNL buildings—looking for opportunities to conserve energy and improve the buildings’ overall performance.

The lab has 15 buildings that are LEED certified and 23 (including 11 of the LEED buildings) that are High Performance Sustainable Buildings—buildings that meet the five “Guiding Principles” for federal facilities: integrated design, optimized energy use, water conservation, enhanced indoor environmental quality and reduced environmental impact of materials.

In fiscal year 2013, ORNL achieved a 46.5 percent energy intensity reduction from the 2005 baseline and an additional 23.4 percent reduction from fiscal year 2012. Although these numbers are good, ORNL still has a lot of work to do to manage total site consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I spent a lot of time arranging energy audits to find more ways to make ORNL a more efficient lab,” Hudey said.

Laboratory buildings are typically designed to serve their initial occupants, but as research changes and funding comes and goes, researchers begin to use the buildings differently.

“A lot of the bigger projects focus on improving existing buildings’ performance,” Hudey said. “We may need to modify control sequences on a system or change equipment speeds and setpoints. Sometimes we have to take a more in-depth look at the operations and make the system fit the current use of the building.”

Done correctly, the changes better serve the people in the building while saving energy at the same time.

“It’s important for us that when we implement an energy conservation method, we run the numbers to evaluate whether it is a good project,” Hudey said.

One such good project was recently implemented in the Computational Sciences Building—the home of ORNL’s supercomputers—where a new Variable Frequency Drive was installed. The VFD allows a compressor in the chilled water-cooling system to operate at varying speeds that better match the actual need for cooling. When less cooling is required, the compressor’s speed can be reduced to conserve energy. Although it cost $200,000 to install, it saves about $86,000 a year.

“Once we’ve implemented a new system, it’s important that I go back and verify if it’s actually saving what we thought it would and operating the way we anticipated,” Hudey said.

Energy efficient technology is constantly evolving, so by the end of a new system’s life cycle, it is likely a new technology is on the market.

“When we look at what we can do with the buildings, we look for things that already need replacement anyway,” Hudey said. “If someone’s replacing something, we like to work with them to take energy consumption into account and determine the most lifecycle cost effective replacement.”

Sometimes, however, simply opting for the most energy efficient technology isn’t cost effective over the life cycle of the product or system.

“Everyone’s talking about LED lighting, but in some cases, the life cycle savings do not offset the high first cost,” Hudey said. “This ratio continues to improve, though, making LED solutions increasingly viable.”

However, getting around the cost of LED lighting is easy by opting for other alternatives. ORNL’s new buildings have been designed to take advantage of natural light, instead. Many of the new buildings on the ORNL campus use large and strategically placed windows to amplify the amount of natural light and move the light to different parts of the buildings.

The cafeteria’s lighting system is even outfitted with a light harvesting capability. The lights can dim or shut off depending on how much natural light is entering the building.

Although lighting is the easiest and most noticeable way to be more energy efficient, energy savings are everywhere

“We took a long look at heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvement opportunities and updated the metering infrastructure throughout the buildings,” Hudey said.

In the next year, ORNL will implement several of the project ideas that came from this year’s energy audits.

“Some projects will be retro-commissioning and some will be improving controls, but the focus is on creativity,” Hudey said. “We’ll have to take advantage of the existing systems as much as possible to optimize and reconfigure the ways they operate.”

Over the last few years, ORNL has implemented and developed a central energy data system that provides the capability to manage and analyze utility data such as energy consumption. The system enables real-time energy data viewing to help identify trends—and the data is starting to role in.

“We have a lot of good data coming and now it’s a good time to use the data and figure out what’s next,” Hudey said.

The Federal Energy Management Program calls on employees at federal sites to take action and empower leadership, innovation and excellence to realize a secure energy future.

“At ORNL, we can take action by continuously evaluating the way energy is used in our daily tasks, seizing opportunities to move beyond ‘business as usual’ by conserving energy, improving efficiency, setting an example and encouraging coworkers to follow,” Hudey said.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

 -  Dylan Platz,  865.241.9515,  November 13, 2013

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