The Energy Department often fails to use equipment that scales back heating and air conditioning in its buildings during non-work hours, which adds an estimated $11.5 million yearly in energy costs, according to an inspector general report released this week.
The report, which found the controls lacking in nearly two-thirds of the buildings sampled, estimates that properly using the equipment across DOE sites would save enough electricity each year to power 9,800 homes.
DOE officials are taking steps to correct the problem, according to responses included in the audit.
The report released this week found that DOE had failed to use or maintain so-called setback controls in 35 of 55 DOE-owned or leased buildings sampled. "In spite of its energy conservation leadership role, we found that the Department and its facility contractors did not place adequate emphasis on reducing energy consumption through the application of setbacks," the report states.
"Of particular significance, we found that the Department had not always required the operation of setback capabilities in building lease agreements. This was especially troubling given the expanded use of leased space to house Departmental operations," it adds. The audit says that discussions with federal officials and contractors did not yield a "satisfactory explanation" about failure to use the systems.
The audit, which tested Office of Science and National Nuclear Security Administration sites, specifically found that DOE and its contractors did not use setbacks in 20 buildings where they were in place or capable of being deployed, while "Equipment in 15 other buildings had either never been enabled or had deteriorated and was no longer functional, thus making setbacks impossible."
Examples in the report include two buildings recently leased by the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee where the setback controls were not used. The property manager told auditors that the owner had not bought the needed software to enable the controls, the report states.
In another case, setbacks were not being used at two Los Alamos National Laboratory buildings because operators and tenants had not been trained to operate them.
The report notes that DOE spent $300 million last year to power nearly 9,000 buildings. It estimates that if the controls were fully used, it would yield more than $11.5 million in annual savings.
Setback controls are appropriate in most but not all buildings. They would not be appropriate, for example, in facilities that are operated around the clock or have sensitive equipment that requires constant temperatures.
DOE is taking steps to address the issue, according to several responses in the report from DOE and NNSA officials. The undersecretary of Energy's office is developing a memorandum for distribution on use of setbacks and other conservation techniques.
Also, a response from Michael Kane, NNSA's associate administrator for management and administration, says NNSA will ensure that its sites are using the controls and ask each site to validate this by the end of this year. Other steps include directing site contractors to implement policies and procedures on the issue and incorporating setback use into future lease agreements.
A separate response from George Malosh, the deputy director of field operations for the Office of Science, similarly pledges the use of the controls at owned or leased sites and steps to ensure that contractors develop and implement procedures on their use.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has placed a strong emphasis on energy efficiency as a way to curb nationwide greenhouse gas emissions. The recent economic stimulus law steers billions of dollars into home weatherization and other efficiency programs.