David Dinse is shedding a new light these days on TVA’s research and development.
The New Deal agency that began 75 years ago developing fertilizers for farmers and building dams for navigation and flood control has turned its pioneering efforts within its own facilities.
Most of TVA’s R&D has shifted to meeting TVA’s own goals of generating, distributing and conserving power. So Mr. Dinse, a TVA engineer for research and technology applications, is working to develop ways to light TVA’s biggest office complex in Chattanooga using less energy.
A new automated lighting system using more-efficient fluorescent bulbs above each work station, combined with more natural lighting, already is cutting light bills in some areas of the Chattanooga Office Complex by 75 percent.
“We’re looking at all kinds of ways to light, heat and cool our buildings more efficiently,” Mr. Dinse said.
David Zimmerman, a manager in TVA’s facilities management division, said engineers are re-examining some of the original design of the downtown complex.
“Some of the original plans were never implemented, but we’re looking at all of our options,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
Ron Williams, director of TVA’s research programs, said his R&D team is helping TVA to cut the equivalent of the output of a nuclear reactor, or 1,400 megawatts, by 2012 through both internal conservation and studies of new technologies to help TVA customers conserve power.
Mr. Williams said TVA refocused its R&D programs earlier this year on energy efficiency, environmental improvements and electrical reliability.
TVA abandoned one of its original core missions — fertilizer and nitrate production in Muscle Shoals, Ala. — in the 1960s and phased out work on ventures ranging from coal gasification to economic planning when federal appropriations for the agency ended in 1999.
In the strategic plan adopted by the TVA board last year, TVA focused its research on supporting power generation and transmission, including technologies that help reduce air pollution, cut electrical outages and improve generation.
“We’re moving more from labs and lab coat-type environments more to subject matter experts who can provide the due diligence to evaluate new technologies and proposals,” he said. “We get a lot of vendors that come in and want us to do a lot of things in different areas, and we want to respect those. But we need to give these ideas a fair assessment to see if they will work.”
While most of TVA’s energy research is focused on its own facilities, the agency is beginning to explore new nuclear technologies for the nation as a whole.
TVA is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop over the next decade or two a pilot reprocessing facility in Oak Ridge to demonstrate the technology of recapturing most of the energy in spent nuclear fuel. TVA signed a memorandum of understanding with DOE in April and could receive $4 million to work with DOE on initial development of the nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, TVA President Tom Kilgore said.
TVA already has a partnership with DOE to produce tritium for nuclear weapons at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., co-chairman of the TVA Congressional Caucus, said he is encouraged by TVA’s partnerships with DOE, which could help reduce nuclear wastes by 90 percent “so it can be more safely stored.
“It’s taking on that project not just for the region but for the country,” Sen. Alexander said of TVA’s efforts.
The program reflects TVA’s tradition of working in partnerships with other federal and state agencies and universities on research and application of new ideas, Mr. Williams said. Throughout its history, TVA has worked with municipalities and co-ops to deliver its power, with state agencies to help farms and offer recreation and with the military or DOE in munitions and other wartime efforts.
Much of TVA’s spending on research today also is in partnership with other power utilities through the Electric Power Research Association, Mr. Williams said.
“We don’t have a lot of money to try to solve every problem ourselves that comes out there,” Mr. Williams said. “These partnerships tie us in with thousands of technical people. We may have a small staff, but together we can leverage our dollars.”