Navy finds way to sink its electricity bill

Monitoring system cuts power usage at bases.

Navy gunships 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Navy gunships 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Winning the battle for the environment doesn't have to stand in the way of defending the country from foreign threats, the IDF showed during its fourth annual Environmental Protection Awareness Week. The IDF's reputation on environmental protection has not been good. Even during the week aimed at raising the army's awareness of such issues, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called the IDF one of the country's biggest polluters. He said bases were not hooked up to the sewage systems and the many refueling stations on them often polluted the ground. In some instances, abandoned army bases were discovered to have serious ground pollution from the decades of army activity there. Legally, army officers are held directly responsible for pollution on their watch. Erdan warned that he would stop cooperating if the army didn't shape up soon and put more resources into environmental protection. While it is difficult to definitively determine whether the IDF has become more environmentally aware, there are some encouraging signs. Just a few weeks ago, an environmental protection administration was set up within the IDF, according to the army's in-house magazine Bamahane. The officers will be responsible for monitoring the length and breadth of the army's activities around the country, on land, air and sea. Some IDF officials have not waited for a specific administration to be created before taking action to protect the environment. The navy has taken a particular interest, and four out of nine of this year's Environmental Protection Awards will be captured by the seamen. One such project has been quite successful, going from a four percent rise in energy use each year in 2006 to a 2% savings this past year. Navy Lt. Cdr. Erez Donenfeld, the project's manager, discussed the project in an interview at the navy's biggest base last week. "In the past several years, there's been both an increase in environmental awareness and a desire to increase efficiency in the army," Donenfeld, who is in charge of energy savings and efficiency for the navy, said. In late 2005, the navy launched a monitoring system for electrical use. A real-time online system was developed which simultaneously monitors all electrical usage at every naval base, Donenfeld explained. The monitoring systems pick up any malfunction in real time and send out an e-mail warning, so that Donenfeld and his staff can fix the problem immediately. Before launching the monitoring system, they combed through the electricity bills for the past three years to develop a usage profile for all the navy's buildings and units. In conjunction with the monitoring system, they also began an allocation and incentives program. "Let's say that last year, a unit's electricity bill was 100. So this January, they are given an allocation of 100. If the bill comes and it's 120, then we investigate. However, if the bill is 80, then we split the difference in savings fifty-fifty. The navy gets back 20, but the unit then gets back the 20 to spend it as they see fit," he told the Post. The money from the savings can be put to use for whatever the unit wants - a new TV, weight room equipment, a water cooler, or a desk. To drive home the educational message, each item bought through the energy savings is affixed with a blue plaque which reads "Purchased with funds from saving energy." In the office where the interview took place, there were numerous items with the blue plaque attached, including an LCD screen and a TV. "We feared that a monitoring system might seem Big Brotherish to the soldiers, but the incentives really pulled the units together," Donenfeld said. While the system significantly cut electricity use, most of the other ideas were much more basic. "We put timers on boilers and air conditioners and sensors in rooms which automatically shut off the lights and the air conditioning when there was no movement for a while," he said. Every base has an officer in charge of energy usage, whose job it is to make the systems more efficient. The program has had remarkable success. Before, electricity usage stayed pretty constant whether it was night or day, with people leaving lights, air conditioners and boilers on all day and all night. But with the monitoring and incentives programs, a pattern to the usage has developed: Much higher during the day and far lower at night. This has resulted in tremendous savings, a NIS 3.5 million reduction in electricity bills in 2007-8, close to 10% of the cost, according to Donenfeld. For example, the classroom building on their teaching base went from a NIS 480 bill per day to NIS 190 per day. That added up to NIS 1,810 in savings per week and nearly NIS 100,000 per year. "It wasn't through any fancy systems. We installed timers and sensors in the classrooms. There was a dramatic drop in energy use during the night when the building was largely empty," he proudly stated. Donenfeld said they also took advantage of peak time and off-peak times. "The batteries on the boats need to be charged. Before, they had all the generators running at full capacity practically all the time. After we installed the monitoring system, we could calibrate the charging. We started charging batteries overnight when demand for electricity was low. We now also ensure that only the right generator is going at any particular time," he said. The LCD screen behind him showed a schematic of all of the electrical usage across the base in real-time. Numbers flickered back and forth: 18 to 19, back to 18 amperes. Donenfeld said there had been interest from the other branches of the army in his project. "The concept is applicable army wide. The navy is the smallest of the three services, so the project would necessarily be bigger in scope in other branches, but it's still feasible," he noted. Looking to the future, the navy has already started investigating the possibility of using more efficient lighting and will be building an array of solar panels for water heating at one of its bases as well, Donenfeld said.