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Energy Conservation


Figure 1 - NIH Clinical Center at Night

The NIH plays a significant leadership role in energy conservation and the use of alternative and renewable energy sources. Our energy use is primarily in the forms of natural gas and electricity to operate, heat, and cool our facilities. We also use fuel in our vehicle fleet and our employees use it to commute to work. 

Since most energy is generated from burning fossil fuels, this leads to contaminants in the air that cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. Burning fossil fuel also releases carbon dioxide – the gas primarily responsible for global warming. By conserving energy in our laboratories and other buildings and by efficiently producing energy through an on-site cogeneration system, we are reducing our harm to the environment as well as lowering our energy bills. This allows us to commit more of our budget to our core mission.

Energy Efficient Programs in Labs:

  • Cold Storage Management Program:  This program addresses and enables the feasibility of industry available options for achieving the various cold storage requirements in biomedical facilities.  On July 1st, 2016, the Management of Ultra-Low Temperature Freezers to Promote Energy Efficiency in Cold Storage for Biomedical Research manual was released; establishing procedures for the selection, inventory, placement, maintenance and inspection of ULTF for NIH facilities.
  • Biosafety Cabinets (BSCs) Program:  The Thermo Scientific A2 BSC utilizes two DC motors and was measured to be approximately 80% more efficient than that of a similar A2 cabinet with an AC motor.

Green Champion Awards for Energy Efficiency:

  • Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) Liquid Nitrogen (L2) Fueled Freezers: The National Cancer Institute found that the conversion from conventional mechanical freezers to more efficient liquid nitrogen fueled freezers resulted in a 31.4% decrease in electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, with a net cost savings of 24.6%.
  • Double Pedestal Electric Vehicle Charging Station and NIH Transportation Management Branch: – NIH purchased two electric vehicles (EVs), a charging station, and a solar array.  There was a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the EVs, while the solar array provided clean renewable energy back to the NIH power grid.  The EVs are now a part of the regular, daily operations of the Transportation Management Branch (TMB)
  • Sustainable Design & Facilities Award: Rocky Mountain Laboratories LED Lighting System – Installation of approximately 80 pole mounted fixtures and replacement of approximately 55 building mounted fixtures with LED fixtures were some of the highlighted accomplishments of the Site Improvement Plan at RML in Hamilton, Montana. The estimated annual energy savings is 110,000 kWh at a cost savings of $11,000, with $99,864 in energy rebates. Since 2001, NIH has performed 20 conservation projects saving 24 million, 500 thousand kilowatt hours with an estimated 5 million dollars in cost savings.

NIH conducted a pilot test of a central power management system for many of its networked computers. The system reduces energy consumption by remotely enabling Energy Star features and powering off computers at night. The pilot resulted in an extraordinary 39 percent reduction in computer energy consumption. 

NIH is using cleaner fuels in its Bethesda power plant. NIH installed a new cogeneration or combined heat and power plant. It burns natural gas, instead of more greenhouse gas-intensive fuels to create electricity and steam. Instead of letting the steam go to waste, we pump it through pipes to our different buildings and use it to help heat our offices. The cogeneration plant is big enough to give 23,000 houses electricity and to heat 2,000 homes with steam.

NIH Division Roles in Energy Conservation

NIH manages a wide variety of programs and activities throughout all campuses and facilities to support energy conservation, reduce associated pollution, and obtain financial savings.  The long term objective of NIH energy management programs is to optimize energy consumption through a combination of energy use policies, best available technologies, proficient operations and maintenance activities, and energy conservation awareness and participation.
The following NIH divisions and offices have key roles in energy management:

Sustainability Measures Review Team and Green Buildings Action Team

Representatives from each of these divisions formed the Sustainability Measures Review Team (SMRT) to address long-standing, critical energy management issues on campus.  The SMRT team develops objectives and targets for energy reduction based on the requirements of policy documents such as Executive Orders 13693, the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and the Presidential memoranda regarding Energy Savings Performance Contracts.  The SMRT team has reviewed activities to determine those activities that significantly impact the consumption of energy on site. These areas include facility operations, maintenance, utilities, and power plant operations.   The Sustainability team is currently examining the processes for design, construction, and renovation to identify how energy efficiency can be integrated into these features.  The objectives and targets established by the energy team focus on the efficient generation and delivery of energy and energy-consuming facility systems.  In the near future, the team will work to identify policies, procedures, education, training, auditing, and feedback activities that will result in further efficiency gains from end users and technologies.

In 2015, the activities of the SMRT team were incorporated into the Green Buildings Action Team, which continues to evaluate and plan for energy conservation at all NIH facilities.

What can you do to help NIH reduce its energy consumption?

Here are several easy steps everyone can take:

  • Turn off the lights at the end of the day or whenever the lights are not needed.
  • Ask your facilities engineering personnel if light timers or automatic sensors can be placed in conference rooms or labs.
  • Turn off your computers, printers, copiers, and other office equipment at night.
  • Activate the sleep setting on all office machines. Most printers, copiers, fax machines, and scanners can automatically enter a low-powered sleep mode when inactive.
  • Use “smart” power strips that ensure electronic products do not continue to use energy when they are powered off.
  • Determine what laboratory equipment can be turned off or entered into a low-powered sleep mode overnight, or when not in use.

Related References and Links:

NIH Ultra-Low Temperature (ULT) Freezer Policy

Department of Energy (DoE) Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP)

ENERGY STAR​​​