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Center Snapshot: Joan Hughes
Joan Hughes with a Kill-a-Watt meter. Image above: Joan Hughes, NASA Langley's energy analyst, has ordered several "Kill A Watt" electricity usage monitors, which make it easier for you to make decisions that can save money and reduce electrical consumption. The devices will be available on loan from the Environmental Management Branch to NASA Langley employees. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

The Federal Government uses about 1.5 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States. With more facilities than any other business or organization, it's the single largest consumer of energy in the nation.

That knowledge and a federal mandate to reduce energy use by 30 percent by 2015 has sent Joan Hughes, an energy analyst at NASA Langley, on a mission to reduce energy at the center.

Her quest began six months ago, when she relocated from Montana.

More than 3,500 employees and 182 buildings at Langley contribute to energy consumption with a price tag of about $15 million each year. Half of that consumption is electricity, according to Hughes. Natural Gas accounts for about 20 percent of energy use at Langley, while the waste-to-energy steam plant, which is under contract with the City of Hampton, accounts for 30 percent.

Her year-round job to raise awareness and conserve energy at the center gains more attention than usual in October, which is Langley's Energy Awareness Month.

In past years, office workers have been targeted. This year, she and the rest of the Environmental Management Branch at Langley are trying something new by targeting Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Pairing that with center-focused efforts and new regional partnerships through an energy working group, which includes schools and the Department of Defense, she intends to see positive results.

"Working with our neighbors means working smarter," Hughes said. "We can learn new things from each other."

Hughes has been influenced by the business world. Moving often as a former military spouse, she learned how to adjust quickly while also learning the importance of sustainability. She's worked as a petroleum engineer, a high school math and physics teacher and a journalist.

She received her undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering from Mississippi State University, and an interdisciplinary master's degree in anthropology and English from University of West Florida. Options have been on her side while living in Mississippi, Montana, California, Florida and Guam.

Her roles within non-profit organizations taught her how to "work on a shoestring budget." She has managed a community development non-profit.

Efficiency and partnerships have always stood out to Hughes in both working worlds. And now at Langley, those come back into play.

So does her tendencies to be a "miser" for energy and time, whether at Langley and at home.

Growing up as a Baptist minister's daughter, she lived somewhat conservatively. In high school, she sometimes felt like maybe she was missing out with limited television watching. But in college, she came to realize, she was better off without it. With too much television, she was missing out on reading, sports and socializing.

During her adult life, she hasn't used cable. Her two sons, ages 5 and 7, watch movies on a DVD player or by streaming through Netflix. And they watch cartoons on Saturday morning.

She wants them to love the outdoors like she did, as a child. Her father often took her hunting and fishing. Her love for the outdoors has carried through with backpacking, canoeing and running.

Hughes recently ran a half-marathon with her two sisters and two friends in Aspen, Colo. She considers herself lucky to have them in her life, because they are equally as adventurous as her and she enjoys their “guilt-free trips” together.

Until their next trip, she is focused on "making a difference at Langley while working within a team framework."

After all, helping others to become environmentally responsible isn't a one-person job. In her case, it takes an entire NASA center.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman