Saving Energy and Priceless Documents at the National Archives and Records Administration


Breakthrough energy savings performance contract (ESPC) projects exemplify how an ESPC can unlock deep levels of energy savings. ESPC projects are financed through energy and water cost savings, allowing clients to reduce their overall energy and water consumption, and save money with no upfront capital costs. Because of this, ESPCs are particularly appealing to federal, state, and local government bodies, which typically lack appropriated funding; have aggressive energy, water, and carbon reduction goals; and seek to save taxpayer money.

RMI studied a number of government ESPC projects and interviewed project team members, uncovering a number of best practices that should be widely used to encourage stronger projects that achieve deeper levels of savings while benefiting both the client and the contractor. These best practices include:

  • Setting aggressive long term goals
  • Engaging and collaborating with diverse stakeholders
  • Establishing a support system
  • Starting with a clean sheet and a beginner’s mind
  • Using an iterative, holistic design process
  • Incorporating feedback and ongoing involvement

RMI and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), a leader in federal energy efficiency, have teamed up to publicize these success stories. The case study featured below is part of the joint RMI-GSA report Deep Energy Retrofits Using Energy Savings Performance Contracts: Success Stories (available at RMI’s "GSA Retrofits" web page) and RMI’s greater initiative to engage federal partners to enable deeper energy savings on their building retrofit projects. These efforts have become increasingly relevant in the wake of Executive Order 13693 and the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015, two recent federal directives that emphasize energy efficiency’s crucial role in a sustainable U.S. energy landscape.

The NARA Success Story

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in collaboration with Honeywell Energy Services Group, achieved 27 percent energy savings across a portfolio of 12 presidential libraries in 2015. Select sites, such as the Gerald Ford Museum, achieved over 40 percent energy savings. Savings are particularly impressive given NARA’s stringent thermal and lighting requirements for historic-document preservation.

Key Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs):

  • LED and other lighting upgrades
  • Controls upgrades
  • Variable-frequency drives
  • Chiller upgrade with staged loading (Gerald Ford Museum)


A Complex Challenge Calls for Creative Solutions

NARA’s paramount concern in this project was maintaining (or enhancing) functionality of the libraries, which house priceless documents and artifacts from our nation’s history. Preservation areas are required to remain below 65 degrees and maintain 50 percent relative humidity, while exhibit lighting must avoid high lumen levels. Meeting these requirements while maintaining thermal-comfort needs in visitor areas presented a complex and difficult-to-retrofit set of building systems. Adding to these complications was the fact that most document-storage areas had to remain occupied, and thus rigidly conditioned, during the construction process.

NARA employees were particularly concerned about retrofit measures that reduced airflow rates in document storage areas. Honeywell was able to address concerns by conducting indoor air quality assessments and monitoring document decay. This quality-assurance measure, which included reports of the pollutant levels before and after the retrofits, allowed Honeywell to move forward with the optimal conditioning strategy and avoid major prescriptive constraints. Honeywell’s strategies often reduced document-decay rates, enhancing the effectiveness of library operations and providing NARA with an additional (though unquantified) project benefit.

Starting Right

Because of the complexity inherent in this project, NARA personnel employed an in-depth interview process including a proposal, interview, and site visit to vet energy service company (ESCO) candidates. This was preceded by an in-depth analysis of the portfolio, which NARA used to evaluate proposals. NARA knew, for example, that a chiller replacement at the Ford Library would best serve building functions by specifying two small chillers for ideal part-load efficiencies. Honeywell was one of the few ESCOs to propose that system, signaling their intelligent approach to the project and alignment with NARA’s priorities.

NARA also acknowledged how important it was to clearly articulate goals and requirements before initiating the energy savings procurement contract, as a failure to provide ESCOs with clarity regarding desired outcomes and limitations could easily lead to proposals that do not align with priorities. By providing clarity on desires (e.g., the chiller-replacement-system specifications) and limitations (e.g., stringent climate control) before project implementation, NARA enabled Honeywell to move quickly and avoid costly changes to the project’s scope.

Proactive stakeholder management

The project involved a complex web of local facility managers, NARA leaders working out of Washington, D.C., document directors and curators, contractors, and ESCO personnel. Understanding the unique priorities, ideas, and leadership structure of each stakeholder group, as well as the interplay between each, was key to the project’s success. Recognizing this challenge, Honeywell kicked off the project with an interactive charrette to foster early collaboration and develop a document outlining facility requirements at each site. The charrette brought together parties that had not previously interacted and established an “all-for-one” mindset at the project outset.

Both NARA and Honeywell personnel also credited the project’s success to proactive management from project leaders. NARA’s agency energy manager served as the primary spokesperson and organizer throughout the process, supporting both facility managers and Honeywell and helping to navigate the conflicting priorities that sometimes arose. The Honeywell team found his expertise and unwavering presence invaluable, especially with facility-manager turnover at four of twelve sites. NARA team members, on the other hand, consistently credited the project’s success to a Honeywell project manager. His organization, responsiveness, and attention to detail were instrumental in building trust and engagement among stakeholders.

The Honeywell project manager also helped maintain continuity and communication between project sites by holding a weekly series of project meetings with facility managers. Because project implementation was staggered across 12 NARA sites, the project team was able to use these meetings to transfer insights among sites and avoid potential pitfalls in later projects. This was supplemented by staging deep-cutting, complex projects (e.g., the Gerald Ford Library) early on.

“The main ingredient for success on this project was the people… If you get the right people—the right team players, the right personalities—the project is already a winner.”
– Ngan Pham, NARA agency energy manager

Lead image courtesy of Sharon Mollarus