Undersecretary of the Air Force, Erin C. ConatonCOLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) -- The undersecretary of the Air Force helped launch the federal government's energy awareness month at the U.S. Air Force Academy here Oct. 1.

Erin C. Conaton, accompanied by Terry Yonkers, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, chose the Academy as the location to highlight the Air Force's energy efforts because of its selection as the service's net-zero installation. Each of the services designated an installation which will study and implement initiatives to achieve a net zero energy status through its use of renewable energy sources and energy reduction efforts.

Col. Rick LoCastro, the 10th Air Base Wing commander, welcomed Ms. Conaton and Mr. Yonkers and explained that the Academy is uniquely equipped to take on the task of being the Air Force's first net zero installation.

"We have untapped potential here," he said, referring to the Academy's energy triad, which consists of the professors, cadets and engineers of the 10th ABW.

Through the energy triad, the Academy is able to incorporate research and findings into cadet learning and capitalize on the inventive ideas cadets can bring to the program, Colonel LoCastro said.

"The partnership you have here among these three entities is truly something I've never seen before," said Ms. Conaton, who discussed energy initiatives with about 30 professors, cadets and engineers from the 10th ABW and also had an opportunity to engage with cadets and faculty regarding the numerous ongoing research initiatives in the chemistry, life sciences, electrical and computer engineering, and civil and environmental engineering research centers.

Russ Hume, the Academy's energy program manager, outlined where the Academy is with electric, natural gas and water consumption and the projects already underway, such as solar array and photovoltaic roofing on Vandenberg Hall dormitory, to help reach goal levels in each area.

Energy awareness is not an issue unique to the Academy and is critical for the service as a whole, Ms. Conaton said. The Air Force's theme for this year's federal government's Energy Awareness Month is "A New Culture: Energy as an Operations Enabler."

"Seeing what you all have been able to accomplish on this scale inspires the actions we can take as an Air Force to reduce energy demand, increase supply and change our culture," she said.

One initiative that caught the attention of the undersecretary was energy foundations for buildings, a project co-developed by Dr. Karen Henry, a civil engineering professor, and Dr. John McCartney at the University of Colorado. This project also linked to two civil engineering design courses taken by first-class cadets--Foundation Engineering and Expeditionary Facility Design.

"(Dr. Henry's) designing it from the ground down, and I'm working it from the ground up," said Cadet 1st Class Leif Lindblom, an expeditionary facility design student.

Energy foundations combine the structural supports of a building with a heat pump, where heat is absorbed and/or shed to the ground by way of a circulating fluid to provide heating and cooling for the building, Dr. Henry said. This provides a cost-efficient approach to conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions and reduce installation costs.

This project would result in a facility on Academy grounds designed and constructed by both 10th Civil Engineer Squadron engineers and an Air Force RED HORSE squadron, she added.

Colonel LoCastro stated that the Academy is taking a holistic approach to energy conservation and consumption.

"It's about having an energy program, not just a solar array; a recycling program, not just some recycling bins," Colonel LoCastro said.

Ultimately, Academy officials want to create a template other installations can adopt.

"Net zero is a high goal, but we have to try to get there," the colonel said. "It builds momentum, and we're trying to make it contagious."