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AFIT research students find savings by minimizing phantom energy loads
Posted Friday, October 28, 2016


By Chris Warsitz 88th Civil Engineer Group

1st Lt Corey DeGroot, left, and Capt Shane Veitenheimer, graduate engineer management research students at AFIT, test 'phantom' loads for computer monitors across the base as part of a combined study with the 88th Civil Engineer Group.


October is federal Energy Action Month (EAM) and the Air Force's theme this year is " Protect the Power." The intent is to give the AF an assured energy advantage in air, space and cyberspace, and each individual and agency can support this initiative in some way or another.

This month specifically highlights what people can do to modify behaviors and reduce energy load at work and at home. Reduction not only saves money but improves the installation's resiliency by reducing overall energy need in an emergency.

This is exactly how the Air Force Institute of Technology Graduate Engineer Management (GEM)Program is supporting the 88th Civil Engineer Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in this year's EAM.

On the topic of responsible and productive use of resources, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James is quoted as saying that " a little bit from each of us can really become something very, very significant."

Similar notions of energy efficiency permeate Air Force doctrine, guidance and directives. Energy conservation efforts are here to stay, and an extremely avoidable cause of energy waste is the presence of phantom loads on base power grids. AFIT recently partnered with the Wright-Patterson AFB Energy Management Office to test phantom loads throughout several test facilities across the base.

Phantom loads are present when unused appliances remain plugged into power outlets. Although these appliances may appear to be idle, or even off, they require power for minimal features, such as their digital clock displays, remote control IR sensors or standby modes. The range of watts consumed while not in use varies from fractions of watts to tens of watts, which can lead to a large sum of energy consumed over time.

According to Capt. Shane Veitenheimer and 1st Lt. Christopher Twigg, AFIT  GEM research students, this unnecessary energy consumption has encouraged many electricity suppliers to initiate campaigns in which consumers are encouraged to disconnect idle appliances from the power grid.

These campaigns aim to reduce residential phantom loads, as an estimated 10 percent to 33 percent of home energy bills can be attributed to the issue. Wright-Patterson AFB has been conducting a similar energy conservation project, aptly named the " Throttle Back" campaign, in which individuals on base are encouraged to turn off or unplug energy consuming devices over extended weekends to throttle back energy usage.

In an attempt to find out just how much money these campaigns save, the AFIT GEM students conducted on-site analysis during a combined research initiative. Using data collected from various facilities on base, hardware power usage data, historic energy cost data and statistical simulation, the students successfully estimated the savings resulting from simply turning off base computer monitors during campaign weekends. The students chose to focus on computer monitors due to their prevalence on base and the fact that they are not AF-Net-connected devices.

" Research revealed only 32 percent to 54 percent of base personnel turn their monitors off on a noncampaign weekend" said Brian Allen, AFIT GEM student researcher.

These results were used in a simulation to estimate the potential additional savings if a traditional weekend saw an 80 percent success rate (i.e. 80 percent of base personnel turned off their monitors before a long weekend).

The simulation also estimated the potential savings if personnel were instructed to physically unplug the monitors from the wall instead of simply turning them off. Assuming a total of 36 " Throttle Back" campaign days per year, Wright-Patterson AFB could expect computer-monitor-associated campaign savings of up to $6,260 annually, not including standard weekend efforts, said Allen.

" While the monetary savings may be seen as negligible, we must keep in mind this study only captured computer monitors," stated 1st Lt. Corey DeGroot, AFIT GEM student research analyst. " When we factor in other items found in work centers such as printers, display televisions, projectors, speakers, coffeepots and microwave ovens, the savings could increase drastically. If this program captures several pieces of office equipment, we could easily see cost savings exponentiate."

The potential monetary savings associated with the " Throttle Back" campaign and similar initiatives should be viewed from an enterprise perspective. The monetary, social and cultural impact could very well prove to be the significant impact that the SECAF highlighted.

" Being environmentally and energy conscious is a mindset that must be adopted entirely, not a trend that can be applied when and if the monetary benefits deem it worthwhile," said 1st Lt. Chad Martel, AFIT GEM research analyst.

The 88 CEG and AFIT GEM partnership exemplifies " Protect the Power" while enhancing mission support.

Energy Action Month is nearing closure, but base personnel should never lose sight of energy-savings initiatives.

To learn more about EAM, Wright-Patterson AFB energy initiatives or to submit energy-related questions and ideas, contact the 88 CEG Energy Office at

1st Lt Chad Martel, a graduate engineer management research student at AFIT, collects data from a computer monitor for a combined research initiative.