DOE’s Own Energy Savings Fall Short, Audit Shows

In the Doctor Heal Thyself category comes a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Inspector General that concludes the department itself is sometimes failing to pursue the sort of “readily available, low-cost energy savings opportunities” that it advocates.

The IG audit [PDF] looked at how the DOE was doing on energy saving initiatives growing out of a couple of big Bush-era laws, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The conclusion: “If more aggressive energy conservation measures had been taken, the Department could have saved about $6.6 million annually, of the $42 million in available energy-saving opportunities as defined by EISA 2007 requirements.”

Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge, Tenn. (image via DOE)

The report tells the story of how a 2009 evaluation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, pinpointed how the lab could save about $77,538 a year by using variable speed drives on supply and exhaust air fans, installing temperature redistribution fans and repairing a steam trap. But the upgrades never happened – even though the cost to implement them would have totaled just $8,400.

Los Alamos National Laboratory stumbled in a similar way, the audit said. Upgrades to building systems controls and maintenance and electronics usage that could have saved $57,883 – at a cost of $12,000 – weren’t done.

By contrast, Los Alamos did undertake a program that seemed to leave the auditors scratching their heads.

The IG report tells the story of the lab installing electricity meters and using the data to create mock electricity bills to illustrate quarterly energy consumption. “The site, however, had not incentivized conservation by actually charging users based on their energy consumption,” the report said. “Accordingly, officials informed us that, as of our review, mock electricity bills had not resulted in any known energy savings for the site.”

And at the DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex, near the Oak Ridge lab in Tennessee, the report makes the metering situation sound almost comical:

Of the 47 buildings for which Y-12 had compiled data, at least 7 buildings were based on estimated usage, rather than actual usage, because meters were nonoperational, inaccessible or not installed. In particular, Y-12 had compiled the same reading for a meter for nearly 5 years because it was behind a locked door and reportedly inaccessible. Further, for almost 5 years, staff reportedly recorded estimated readings for a meter that had not been re-installed after being removed during a construction project.

The report concluded with a reminder that it wasn’t asking the department to do anything particularly special. After all, “the department has publicly advocated for energy conservation in U.S. business and private residences, as well as within its own facilities,” the report said.

The various facility managers had a few little bones to pick with some of the audit findings, but overwhelming concurred with the recommendations laid out by the audit, although the Office of the Under Secretary of Energy said it didn’t have sufficient information to fully endorse the $6.6 million annual savings goal.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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