GSA’s Green Proving Ground

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If government agencies could make New Year’s resolutions, improving energy and water efficiency and saving taxpayer dollars would be good ones. And some of the support needed to keep up their resolve would come from a GSA program, Green Proving Ground (GPG). Through GPG, new and underutilized technologies are tested in federal facilities to analyze which ones offer the best opportunities to improve building performance.  The innovations identified through the program will play significant roles in enabling federal agencies to comply with the administration’s increasingly ambitious sustainability goals, and the data provided is expected to catalyze deployment of sustainable technologies throughout the market.

The first set of technologies to be tested by GPG (all in GSA-owned buildings) was selected in 2011. To evaluate workstation lighting technologies, the GSA partnered with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to test retrofitted systems including dimmable ballasts and occupancy sensors at each luminaire at 5 buildings in California. Results indicated that occupant responsive lighting could deliver from 27% to 63% in annual electricity savings, with the greatest savings seen at a call center occupied 18 hours per day. Simple payback for installing the technology at equivalent sites was estimated at less than 7 years, indicating that workstation lighting controls could be viable candidates for targeted deployment.

Results from testing advanced power strips were even more impressive. Plug loads, including computers, printers and other desktop machines, consume about 25% of an office building’s electricity. To study how to constrain growing plug load demand, GSA worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to test advanced power strips in 8 mid-Atlantic federal buildings. Three strategies were tested: schedule timer control, load-sensing control and a combination of both. The schedule timer control, which allows users to determine when power turns on and off, achieved an average electricity savings of 48% (more in printer rooms and kitchens). Such significant savings, coupled with the low cost of the technology, indicate an opportunity for wide deployment. In spring 2014, in response to the study results, the GSA will begin installing over 16,000 advanced power strips in more than 80 federal facilities nationwide.

To date, nine sets of GPG test results have been published, including studies released in December of high performance window retrofits, variable speed chillers with magnetic levitation bearing compressors and photovoltaic projects at 63 GSA-owned facilities. Over 20 other technologies, such as occupant responsive HVAC controls, wireless lighting controls and modular, low temperature absorption chillers, are currently under evaluation. To continue assessing the most promising available technologies, the GSA annually invites industry experts, academics, inventors and others to recommend technologies for future studies. The next Request for Information, asking for new recommendations for GPG testing, will be released by the GSA in fall 2014.

In addition to advanced power strips, wireless sensor networks will be installed at two GSA-operated data center in the coming year, thanks to positive findings (both solid efficiency improvements and short payback time estimates) in GPG assessments. Identifying how and when to deploy promising new technologies has the potential for significant performance improvements at GSA buildings and private facilities through reducing water waste, greenhouse emissions and overall costs. Robert Peck, in one of his last blog posts as Commissioner of GSA Public Buildings Service, summarized the potential for GPG: “It’s all about fostering innovation and leveraging our purchasing power to make markets for tomorrow’s building technologies.”

As we have noted often on this blog, the federal government is setting ever more aggressive sustainability goals. The technologies required to achieve these goals are typically tested first on owned buildings but inevitably the requirements will extend to the leased inventory. The process takes time but we have already seen GSA leases include greater specificity regarding energy efficient lighting, water conservation, etc. The Green Proving Ground will continue to foster new sustainability requirements that lessors will one day need to meet.

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