By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Being located 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle means heat needs to be generated year-round. This adds up to one big heating bill for Thule Air Base.
Thule has five locomotive-style engines in its M-Plant to generate electricity for the base and a steam boiler plant for heat. Thule currently uses more than 10 million gallons of jet propellant 8 fuel for electricity and steam heat annually.
“It’s actually the steam heat that’s the most expensive part when it comes to Thule,” said Randy Pieper, 21st Space Wing resource efficiency manager.
Constructed during the Cold War, Thule once housed 10,000 personnel. Today, that number stays between 750 and 1,000. “There are a lot of steam boilers because it’s sized for a larger base,” Pieper said.
According Pieper, the electrical generators are only 35 or 40 percent effective; most of the energy produced is waste.
In an effort to improve efficiency and save money on fuel, new exhaust boilers have been installed to each of the power plant’s five engines to generate heat.
Pieper compares the electrical generators to a car engine. “All of that (energy) is going out in exhaust. We’re going to capture that, and it’ll be used for heat,” Pieper said.
The $8.3 million project is being done in two phases. Two exhaust boilers went online in June, Pieper said. The other three are expected to be functional by late spring.
Once the exhaust boilers are all fully functional, the current steam boilers will become back up. “During the summer, those boilers will be turned off all together,” Pieper said.
Using the exhaust from the electrical generators to produce heat for the base will save 1.5 million gallons of fuel a year, nearly $3 million based on today’s cost of fuel.
The base is currently in the process of decreasing its size and its footprint.
“We’re going to reduce the base 38 percent,” he said.
Having more than 744,000 square feet less to heat and maintain will significantly increase Thule’s annual savings.
“Not only are there energy savings but there’s (operation and maintenance) savings; there’s logistical savings because you’re not supporting such a large base. Those are third and fourth effect savings that don’t necessarily get discussed,” Pieper said.
Thule’s remote arctic location provides a number of challenges for any construction project. Outdoor construction can only be done from mid-May to mid-September and the port is only open to ships in July and August.
“It’s a combination of using our resources more effectively, using our generation resources more efficiently, reducing the size of the base and using the space more effectively,” Pieper said. “You’re saying an exhaust boiler, but there’s a combination of other things that compound savings in a really harsh environment.”