Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Energy Security Reading List for 2008

Howdy all. I haven't even had my first sip of eggnog as I've found myself knee deep (or more accurately, up to my neck) in research for a forthcoming white paper on fully aligning the Pentagon with the incoming administration on energy security. Here are a few additional docs I've stumbled upon in the process ... all from 2008 and all of which are worth a read if you can spare a few minutes:
Good luck with this assignment. I'll see you on the other side of New Years Day.   

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Air Force

My guess is it's going to take a few billion R&D dollars pumped into Lockheed and Boeing before their first Santa-less flight, but these guys may be the renewable solution the Air Force has been seeking. Not for fighters of course, but maybe for transport. 

The DOD Energy Blogger is going to take a few days off to recharge, and will be back, raring to go, with a new post on the first Monday after Christmas. Happy Holidays All !!!

Reindeer Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 22, 2008

Better Batteries Brewing at Argonne

Energy security takes many forms. In this case, a disparate group of small US researchers and would-be manufacturing co's are banding together to build a better battery. The site they've chosen is the Argonne National Lab in Illinois, a huge DOE facility famous for its role in the Manhattan Project. This excerpt from last week's press release says it all:
Lithium ion batteries are anticipated to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles. Today, United States automobile manufacturers and defense contractors depend upon foreign suppliers — increasingly concentrated in Asia — for lithium ion battery cells.
I wish these guys a lot of luck for several reasons. The full release is here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The World According to Oil

Here's another post coming out of the recent NDU Admiral Moorer Military Energy Conference. This is a different way of looking at the world, wouln't you say? And it's worthwhile noting that while 85% of reserves were available to the major International Oil Companies (IOCs like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, etc.) as recently as the 1970's, widespread nationalization of oil assets since that time now means the IOCs are left to fight over less than 10% of the world's oil.

All that to say, next time gas prices go up, you can blame the big oil co's you're familiar with, but they will not be the primary cause of the pain. Not by a long shot. In fact, other than Saudi Aramco, they are the only orgs with the technology to get increasingly hard-to-reach oil out of the ground. Without them having access, a lot of that oil is going to remain right where it is.

Map Courtesy of US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oil's Volativity Knife Cuts Both Ways

After thrashing the big oil-consuming economies on the march, and final leap, to nearly $150 this summer, oil's drop below $60 ... $50 ... $40 in late 2008 is scaring the dickens out of the largest oil-selling nations. This includes the OPEC cartel countries and other less-than-friendly places like Russia, Iran and Venezuela, who approved mega projects and payrolls under the assumption that expensive oil was here to stay. Now they're looking into the abyss as the global economic downturn settles in. 

Here's one account of the impact on "let's use energy as a weapon" Russia. Now the gun is pointing right at the heart of its fragile economy, and it's putting the Putin government under increasing pressure. Beyond fossil fuels it has few other wares to sell, excepting tanks and vodka. And, at home anyway, vodka sales are tanking.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

JCTD + PSFT = Energy Efficiency Home Runs

JCTD = Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. PSTF = Power Surity Task Force. Follow this link to one of the best energy efficiency presentations I've seen lately. Deals with tents at forward operating bases (FOBs) as well as CONUS structures. One of the slides breaks it out like this:

Old School Approach
  • Four 300Kw generators for ten un-insulated tents
  • Total of 1.2MW, or an average of 120Kw per tent
  • Was not enough, so two more 300Kw generators brought in for a total of 1.8MW, or an average of 180 Kw per tent
PSFT Approach
  • Foam-insulated tent with permanent HVAC requires a 30Kw generator
  • 75% - 83% reduction in the generator size
  • Straight-line projection (approx 75% - 83% ) fuel savings
By retired Army Colonel Dan Nolan, founder of Sabot 6, it's about action, not talk. Action that's recently been taken, is happening right now, and will be happening shortly,that will save the DOD time, money, and most importantly, the lives of its most valuable resource of all: the troops.

Photo: USA Today

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oil News from the Advanced Naval Propulsion Symposium 2008

Morning update: on further reflection, what is said below for the Navy would of course hold true for the other services. Aircraft and heavy ground vehicle engineers, when asked to comment on what future fuels will propel their vehicles for the next 1/2 century, are in the exact same position. Looking out from 2008, there is simply no viable substitute for oil on the horizon.

As reported in today's DefenseNews, one summary quote from this conference on this one says it all:
The surface U.S. Navy will remain dependent on fossil fuels for at least the next 40 to 50 years.
That's what the engineers said. And barring enormous, unexpected innovations in ship propulsion, it's probably a conservative estimate. But still, it's kind of spooky. Today's $40 oil may make it seem like a benign forecast, but the ripple effects of low oil prices make it clear that the next economic cycle will witness global economies competing for far less oil than was available when prices spiked this summer. The implications for future prices are sobering.

That means a responsible Navy, knowing it's going to need oil for another half a century, would either begin hoarding money for future purchases at much higher prices, or hoarding low priced oil in a Naval equivalent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But as neither of these will likely come to pass, the Navy should work as hard as it can to prove the symposium's prediction wrong, no matter how difficult that challenge may appear today.

Photo: US Navy

Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama & Energy Security

One thing you can say about Obama: he's consistent. He's chosen a confidence-inspiring financial team, and now he's done it again with his energy and environment team. It began with his placement of energy-hawk General Jim Jones as National Security Advisor and then continued with these announcements: Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Carol Browner as Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and Lisa Jackson as EPA Chief.

But actually, it began a long time ago, long before it became clear this man had a realistic chance to become President. In early 2006, almost 3 years ago, US Senator Obama gave a speech titled "Energy Security is National Security". His remarks followed right on the heals of President Bush's seemingly bold State of the Union pledge to move the US away from oil dependency, and he points to Bush's immediate (and humiliating) kowtow to OPEC when the Saudis expressed concern about his enthusiasm for alternative energy. Obama says this behavior is symptomatic of the US vulnerability. He said, "All we really need to know about the danger of our oil addiction comes directly from the mouths of our enemies:
"Oil is the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community." These are the words of Al Qaeda. 

"Focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause them to die off." These are the words Osama bin Laden. 
More than anyone else who's ascended to our highest office, Obama understands that energy is a national security issue, that "the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the oil we cannot live without." This man will soon be the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, and I for one am eager to see how the DOD responds to real energy leadership.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Navy Energy Security Quote for Monday

Aided by powerful computers, the best minds of our day can predict neither financial collapse, IEDs nor pirate resurgences a mere 12 months out, yet the "Father of the Nuclear Navy", Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover, saw the energy future quite clearly from his vantage over 60 years ago:
Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.
Hmm, whether the Admiral was thinking about the US in general, or our military in particular, it's obvious that the DOD's energy policy (until just recently) was not unlike the selfish and irresponsible parent. Only with the advent of the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) and the Energy Efficiency KPP (EEKPP) do we see a glimmer of a responsible impulse re: energy management. And it remains to be seen whether these more responsible, forward looking thoughts will translate into responsible, energy-security enhancing actions. 

Here's Rickover's longer statement from 1957 from which the excerpt was taken. Thanks to the Honorable David Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, for citing Rickover during his presentation at last week's Moorer Military Energy Security Forum at NDU.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Defense President Nails It

Lawrence Farrell has written on energy before, but never better than just now in the December edition of National Defense Magazine. Farrell, a former 3 star USAF general (a Zoomie, I might add) and President of NDIA's National Defense, makes a powerful and succinct case that the DOD needs to get off oil post haste. And not just because some of it comes from messed up or outright hostile countries, meaning it's unreliable and purchase of it funds corrupt regimes and terror networks. 

No, all of those solid reasons have never been nearly enough to change DOD behavior. Farrell begins, "When it comes to military energy priorities, we must get beyond the traditional cost-benefit analysis that inevitably is tied to the price of oil." He points out that insulating tents yields huge financial savings, but follows that with the fact that it also takes 13 tanker trucks off the road every day. See, it's not the oil money, it's the logistical burden inherent in reliance on oil that's the killer, literally and figuratively. According to Farrell, 
Seventy percent of the convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan are for fuel and water. These convoys are at risk from roadside bombs and snipers. Just moving fuel entails great danger to US troops.... If we could cut the amount of convoys in half, the logistics tail would be significantly reduced. The result would be drastic improvements in the ratio of shooters-to-support personnel.  
You hear that Hoss? More teeth, less tail. As it turns out, in-theatre DOD energy security is largely independent of where oil comes from or how much it costs per barrel on any given day. Farrell concludes:
The problem with [current DOD energy strategy] is that it dictates a halt in the development of alternative technologies as soon as the price of oil falls.... This inevitable knee-jerk response to [oil price fluctuations] has got to go.
I'll keep beating my drum. This is why rapid departmental adoption of the Energy Efficiency Key Performance Parameter (KPP) is a must. Related to (but untethered from) life cycle expenditures, it better accounts for the most important costs of future systems and forces.

Iraq supply convoy photo: @ Flickr

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SECDEF Gates on "Reprogramming the DOD"

Recently it was announced that Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, appointed by President Bush as the replacement to Donald Rumsfeld, would stay on for some period to provide continuity for the Obama administration.

In an upcoming edition of Foreign Affairs journal, Gates has penned an article titled "A Balanced Strategy:  Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age".  And though energy issues are not discussed directly in the piece, Gates' vision for what the department needs to work on provides a contextual framework for energy security decisions in the coming years. His argument for balance is comprised of three main components:

"Between trying to prevail in current conflicts and preparing for other contingencies"

"Between institutionalizing capabilities such as counterinsurgency and foreign military assistance and maintaining the United States' existing conventional and strategic technological edge against other military forces", and ...

"Between retaining those cultural traits that have made the U.S. armed forces successful and shedding those that hamper their ability to do what needs to be done”

Clearly, the lack of energy efficiency as a KPP in systems requirements formulation fits best in Gates’ category 3: a trait that has hampered our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will continue to impair our capabilities in other theaters if not addressed. Ultimately, the DOD's acknowledgement in NDAA 2009 that energy issues are a major factor in systems requirements, operational effectiveness and budgeting will color each of Gates' three "balance" components. In some cases energy will limit us; in others it will present new opportunities for the US to gain the advantage. But either way, it is here to stay as a permanent part of the way we determine our priorities and options in armed conflict, and in the way DOD prepares for its next big assignments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Admiral Moorer Forum @ NDU - Drinking Straight from the Energy Security Firehose

This job just keeps getting better and better. I was fortunate enough to be invited and represent the blogosphere at the 3rd Annual Admiral Thomas H. Moorer Military Energy Security Forum held today at the National Defense University in Washington. The conference organizers broadened the scope this year to give more attention to technology and include some stakeholders from outside DOD. Speakers included senior DOD leaders involved in the formulation and implementation of the Department's energy strategy, as well as executives from oil co's, renewable energy co's, and energy security thought leaders from academia and other Federal agencies. 

I also got to meet for the first time, face-to-face, many of the folks whose excellent work I've been calling out on this blog since its inception. I have some fantastic information to impart in subsequent posts. This one is intended to serve as your heads-up.

Photo: NDU Marshall Hall

Monday, December 8, 2008

IBM: Green as Google?

Attended my first DC Energy Conversation tonight in person, and it was well worth the wait. The featured presentation was given by IBM Managing Director Todd Ramsey and outlined several key sectors in which IBM is bringing creative thought leadership to energy issues related to the government and commercial sectors. Topics included:
  • Data center efficiency (Project Big Green), including a new state-of-the-art facility in Boulder, CO (picture above)
  • Smart workforce management (increasing use of remote workers via online collaboration tools)
  • Intelligent transportation systems (to reduce congestion induced fuel waste)
  • Smart utility grid (adding intelligence to the grid reaps big energy savings)
Of these, Ramsey positioned data center efficiency projects as the real low hanging fruit opportunities from which many US companies could immediately reap substantial savings. In his experience, 40% savings were typical with 100% ROI achievable within 2 years. 

I also liked his slide showing that while IT operations are responsible for 2% of global energy consumption, IT efficiency solutions can bring substantial savings to the other 98%. For more info on IBM's energy efficiency and environmental initiatives go to:

I have to admit when the talk was over, I had to tell Mr. Ramsey that IBM's energy initiatives made the famously conservative company seem a lot hipper than I remember. In energy innovation, I'd say IBM is definitely giving Google a run for its money.

Photo: IBM

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Natural Gas Cartel Forming?

Having an OPEC for oil is bad enough. Now, some of the primary suppliers are looking to set up the same type of system in an attempt to control the price of natural gas. Russia and Iran are doing their best to keep prices high, but so far they are being overpowered by the current global economic crisis which is driving the cost of all commodities straight down, including energy. 

And in addition to the weak economy putting pressure on gas prices, news keeps coming that the US' own supply of natural gas is stronger than expected. Poor belligerent, anti-US energy suppliers ... sometimes they just can't catch a break. :(

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lovins on DOD Energy (Part II)

OK, now that the previous post gave a skeleton outline of Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) founder and energy visionary since the 1970's, I'll drill down a bit more on Tuesday night's conversation in Cambridge. Here are a couple of the more pointed comments I captured that night:
  • Lovins said DOD is setting the pace for the nation on energy efficiency and emissions reduction. In particular, it's embracing the concepts of negawatts and neg-emissions so troops have greater flexibility and face less exposure to hostile fire while protecting fuel in transit
  • Speaking of which, he noted that DOD uses 70% of its total fuel resources on moving people, equipment ... and fuel
  • He remarked that DOD used to think of price of fuel delivery was free. Since April of this year, and the NDAA 2009 (both well documented on this blog) however, the FBCF and its energy KPPs will ensure that Prime DOD contractors will be competing to see who can bring the most energy efficient solutions. And he predicted that those efficiency technologies and strategies will find their way into the commercial sector as have so many other groundbreaking military technologies before them
  • When the moderator, Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners asked him about the effects on certain world leaders of today's lower oil prices, as well as in the future envisioned by Lovins, Lovins replied that folks like Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez and the Saudi's "would have to get real jobs." Much laughter ensued.
  • Lovins passed around an ultra light, ultra strong carbon fiber ballistic helmet intended for military use, and noted similar materials used for auto bodies will be game changers, allowing cars to lose half their weight. Said to check out the Toyota 1X
  • When asked about Obama, Lovins said he was already exerting strong energy leadership and stressed that this was going to be very helpful. And then he said Obama is going to have to restructure/repurpose the DOE
  • The last thing I got to ask him was what fuel did he think would power USAF planes 10-20 years from now. At first he mentioned liquid hydrogen, but didn't seem too sure about its military utility. And then he moved on to saying maybe it'll be what we use today: JP8 from traditional sources. But suggested that if the DOD and the nation continue on the energy efficiency course on which they've embarked, it won't cost much as it will be in less demand. 
Here's hoping he's right on that. All that. He's been nothing but right so far.

Photo: RMI HQ in Snowmass, CO

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lovins on DOD Energy (Part I)

Had the great good fortune to hear pioneering energy thinker Amory Lovins speak to a small group of VCs and entrepreneurs in Cambridge, MA last night at an event hosted by innovation aggregator Xconomy. And even had a chance for a little one-on-one conversation afterwards. A number of good DOD related topics emerged, so I'm going to make this a 2-part post.

Here's some background info on Lovins for those of you not already familiar with his work:
  • Author of seminal 1976 article appearing in Foreign Affairs: Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?
  • In 1982, founded the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in Snowmass, CO
  • Author of Winning the Oil Endgame - essential reading published in 2005
  • Served on the DSB Energy Task Force that published my favorite DOD energy report in Feb 2008 (see link in sidebar). Said overall it's a quality piece of work, though he would have emphasized some aspects more ... like the massive endurance benefits DOD gets via efficiency improvements
Last night, with < $50 barrel oil casting a shadow over entrepreneurs and investors who had a much easier time proving the value of their solutions when oil was $147, Lovins said he believes energy will remain at the forefront of DOD and National strategy thinking, even as fuel prices have fallen. This time, with climate change and energy security now both big parts of the equation, there will be little let-up in our pursuit for better energy ideas ... and for making oil a less-than-strategic commodity. To be continued ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Energy Security & the New National Security Advisor

As noted previously in this blog, Marines often seem more inclined than members of the other 3 service branches to think about energy security in crystal clear, no BS ways. President Obama's new National Security Advisor (NSA), picked to replace the outgoing NSA Stephen Hadley, is retired Marine Corps General James Jones, Jr. Jones, who once worked for John McCain as the Marine liaison to the US Senate, has had a distinguished military career. He is also remarkable for some of the post-retirement positions he's held:
  • Member of the Board of Directors: Chevron
  • Member of the Board of Directors: Boeing
  • President of Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
While much of his uniformed work and experience might point to greater affinity with the Republican party, Jones and Obama have at least two things in common. One is a mutual appreciation for the game of basketball. The other is a shared belief of the centrality of a solid energy policy to national security. Introducing his nominee yesterday, the President elect said:
Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and national security and has worked on the front lines of global instability, from Kosovo to northern Iraq to Afghanistan.
Jones seems to be the first National Security Advisor with interest and experience in energy issues. If you want to see the message he's been espousing while at the Center for 21st Century Energy, click here.

Photo: Voice of America

Monday, December 1, 2008

Essential Knowledge: Jet Fuel and other Hydrocarbons

Yesterday I posted on Carbon Sciences' approach for turning CO2 into useful fuels, including jet fuel. While I was on their site, I noticed some good, nuts-and-bolts details I missed when I passed up Organic Chemistry in college: "The fuels we use today, such as gasoline and jet fuel, are made up of chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms aptly called hydrocarbons." Duh. On low end of the scale, you've got molecules (familiar gases) with only a few carbon atoms:
  • C1 (one carbon atom fuel - methane)
  • C2 (two carbon atom fuel - ethane) 
  • C3 (three carbon atom fuel - propane)
Banging more carbon atoms into these molecules gets you more energetic fuels:
  • C7-C10 (gasoline) 
  • C10-C16 (jet fuel/JP8)
And when the carbon combines with air during combustion, you get a C02 molecule for every carbon atom ... hence the problem with fossil fuel emissions ... and the potential of Carbon Sciences' approach.

Photo of F-22 inflight refueling: DOE EERE

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Air Force Renewables Dream: Carbon Dioxide to Jet Fuel

As an F-15 hurtles skyward, hydrocarbon jet fuel converts to energy, heat and CO2 at a rate of dozens of gallons of JP8 per minute. Fuel moves our aircraft, ground vehicles and most of our ships, but often comes from less-than-reliable places at more than affordable prices, and creates CO2 when it's combusted. One company in Santa Barbara, CA is developing a means to reverse that process by combining water and CO2 to get fuel.

Carbon Sciences' first prototype is set to run early in early 2009. Some will argue that the end result of this process is CO2 when the jet flies again so that's more greenhouse gas production. But on the other hand, if this works as planned, and the fuel is made from CO2, which everyone is trying to figure out to limit or sequester from a climate change perspective, then we've got a CO2 loop with net zero production.

As this blog concerns itself with energy security, economics and climate issues in that order, this is a potential huge win. Carbon Sciences is just getting started, but their claims that this process will scale could make them a very interesting player in the Air Force's next generation fuels efforts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Potential Solution to DOD's Grid Dependency Problem

If I told you there was an interesting new renewable energy company with an office on Trinity Drive in Los Alamos, could you guess what kind of technology we'd be talking about? Nuclear would be a good start, but this time with important differences:
  • Small in size
  • About 25 MW in capacity - enough for 20,000 homes
  • Inherently safe design, built to work underground
  • $25-30M for each unit
  • Almost ready for production
Here's another new company to keep an eye on: New Mexico-based Hyperion Power Generation. If they can execute their plan, we may have an affordable response to one of the DSB's Feb 2008 report's key recommendations about DOD bases needing to break their dependency on the fragile, vulnerable, national grid. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I'm going to take a few days off and come back with new posts starting 1 Dec.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Small Co Pushes Biofuel Flight Envelope

Tiny, Florida-based Green Flight International is a working a fuel problem the military in general, and the Air Force in particular, hope they can solve. With scrutiny and approval from the FAA and some support from Lockheed, Green Flight has just flown a 1960's-era single-engine Czechoslovakian training jet coast-to-coast on a nutritious 50-50 blend of JP8, soy and animal fat.

While the Air Force is currently certifying its inventory to fly on a mixture of JP8 and fuel derived from coal, the benefits of that process seem limited at present. Certainly, fuel from coal is a big energy security gain (the US owns a heck of a lot of coal). But it comes at high economic and environmental costs. So the next generation synthetic fuels in the Air Force's road map include biofuels derived from multiple potential sources. 

Green Flights' demonstrated ability to fly its jet on various types of fuels ... and its upcoming flight test of an algae-based biodiesel, is identifying some options the Air Force might do well to explore in greater depth. More details are in this Scientific American article from last year.

Photo: Green Flight International

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Big 3 Redux

Thanks to feedback I got from a smart DOD Energy Blog reader over the weekend, I'd like to revise the Army vs. Big 3 comparison made in the previous post. My claim was that the Army was out ahead of GM in renewables and fuel efficiency R&D, and that this demonstrated commendable thinking on the Army's part. And that this was a sure sign of GM's (and Ford & Chrysler's) continuing neglect of an important new market segment.

Well, it's worth noting that the Army is compelled to action, at least in part, by DOD's recent embrace (in NDAA 2009 and earlier) of the the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) concept as a key performance parameter (KPP). After years of system design and budgeting in a vacuum free of the constraints of fuel costs, conducting concurrent large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during a time of high and volatile oil prices has awoken the Pentagon to this problem ... in a big way.

US automakers have had no similar moment of truth this decade, as they've attempted to meet customer demand for higher quality, but not necessarily higher mileage, vehicles. I happily paid $1.87 per gallon to fill up my Ford yesterday and expect, barring a significant act of war or espionage, to pay low prices for some time. But what do I know? And aside from the Peak Oil theory to which many folks including me subscribe, what does anyone know about the price of oil in the next few years?

The Big 3 have prospered (generally) from selling cars that people in the US and Europe have wanted to buy. The current economic crisis is hammering them as it is all auto manufacturers. But my guess is that what's got the US companies in their particularly precarious present position has less to do with the fact they've yet to produce a Prius, and more to do with structural challenges and not really tackling their quality issues until relatively recently.

Photo of Ford's "Glass House" HQ courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thinking about US Car Makers Tonight ...

... and how their fate might impact DOD in the energy/transportation sector. Word from Capitol Hill at the end of the day is that the CEOs were sent packing without the bailout deals they sought. I like that congress pushed back and basically said, "hey, you don't even have a plan for what you'd do with the money." So GM et al get to go back to Detroit and think up something smart mighty fast ... and not the usual SUV stuff or no one's going to buy it. For an outstanding analysis of the situation, with some keen comparisons to other times and industries, see this article from the Cleantech Blog's John Addison.

I know that the Army does a lot of great work in Warren, MI, just north of Detroit, in an org called the Tank Automotive Research and Development Engineering Center (TARDEC). One of their latest projects is called a Fuel Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) using an approach inspired in part by the "Monster Garage"show. But the Army isn't innovating to win a reality show or even new customers. And it's not trying to maximize profits. Rather, its motives are mission based, as you can't be an effective rapid-tempo fighting force if a lack of fuel is always slowing you down ... or worse.

My guess is there's a lot of cross pollination and partnering in the vehicles ecosystem in Michigan. Seems like a reversal of stereotypes is occurring: the commercial companies in question have a lot to learn about business from the government ... in this case, an innovating, imaginative US Army.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old and New Energy Development Hits the Brakes

Boston is hosting two energy-related conferences this week. One is the giant Green Build expo which is advancing the very successful LEED program, focusing on improving energy efficiency, energy management and materials issues in the construction industry. The other I discuss here is the 4th Conference on Clean Energy, which brings together much of the New England-area venture capital and academic tech transfer communities. Normally a very optimistic and stimulating stage to announce all the new stuff going on in the tech energy space.

While the innovators from MIT and elsewhere have some fantastic new technologies, the lead off speaker began by acknowledging an unruly and very large mammal head on: the elephant in the room. Though anyone with access to the media knows that the global economy is grinding to a halt and that investments and other capital expenditures are way down, it was a bit of a shock to hear it spoken out loud in a forum like this. Talk about boom-bust:
  • Most energy infrastructure work (development and maintenance) is stalled ... worldwide
  • Oil development work in US slowing, stopping
  • Russia infrastructure will deteriorate and oil output will decline over next few years
  • Only some OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia will continue to spending on their oil infrastructure ... though at a lower rate than in the past
  • Investments in the renewables build-out way down as no money is flowing 
Take away: when the economy recovers, there' s going to be even less global oil available than there was when it hit $147 a barrel this summer. And the only country that's keeping its gear in good shape, Saudi, will comprise a larger % share of US oil imports than it ever has. For DOD, this is a very good time to avoid short term thinking if it can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UAVs' Unknown (But Potentially Enormous) Impact on DOD Energy Demand

Recent DOD Energy Blog posts like this one have show strong trend lines towards greater use of UAVs by the US military. Much greater, in fact. Now this Slate article makes it clear that our Predator drones are doing a great job in Afghanistan, military and politically. 

And guess what that means? We're going to make more of these aircraft, train more ground-pilots, and keep UAVs in the air more often. I need to find out how much fuel these planes use per hour and how long a typical mission is. And how many are in the air at any one time. And how many will be in the air in a year. And will sensor and comm (if not weapon) systems be miniaturized enough for them to be carried on lightweight versions powered in part, or in full by solar/fuel cell/battery/etc. 

While the comparison is far from perfect, here's a taste of how much JP8 some of their manned counterparts consume from Dr. Karbuz's most recent paper:
  • B1-B bomber: 59 gallons per minute
  • B-52 bomber: 54 gallons per minute
  • KC-135 tanker: 35 gallons per minute
  • F-16 fighter: 13 gallons per minute
I wonder if someone at the Pentagon is keeping track of this and thinking about what this trend might do to AF and Army energy budgets and logistics?  

Lastly, it's not just the US that's learning how effective they can be, see the cautionary note the conclusion of the Slate piece about how other countries are becoming enamored of UAVs as well. And not just our friends.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hawes @ Flickr

Monday, November 17, 2008

Navy Energy Wake-up Call

You have till then end of November to register your favorite small company with DON's Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NFEC) on an early stage "sources sought" solicitation. This initiative isn't so much about solving problems with new energy technology or policies, as much as it's about waking Navy personnel up to energy challenges in the first place. Particularly in the field of conservation, the cumulative efforts of many can make a big impact.  

Here's how the solicitation puts it: 
The purpose of the Energy Awareness Program is to publicize the goals, strategies, successes and lessons learned of the Navy Energy Program, produce an annual Secretary of Navy awards ceremony, increase Naval military and civilian employees’ knowledge of energy efficiency and conservation, develop products that will change the behavior of Navy personnel resulting in decreased energy use, develop and transfer technical and program management information to the DON community, and assist Naval activities in meeting energy reduction goals through awareness education.
There's no money in it yet, but this is a necessary prerequisite to gauge industry's interest and capabilities. How about a Prius-like display in each ship that tells the Captain when he's getting the best fuel economy (maybe this already exists)?  Or awards for seamen who submit the best energy saving ideas on shore and at sea?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wanted: 4 Saudi Arabias

In the same article yesterday that cited oil dipping to $54 a barrel, the lead economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted production is declining worldwide. Looks like economic activity is falling faster than production so the price is still dropping. But here's the cruel and ironic part: 
Recent oil project delays announced by several companies could spark a supply crunch by 2010, Birol warned.
So the same economic conditions that are keeping price down today are also scuttling exploration and development projects that could increase supply in the future. And even accounting for the current global economic slowdown, expected increases in demand mean a shortfall is looming:
The IEA ... forecast that extra oil production of 45 million barrels per day was needed by 2030 to offset declining oilfield output. That [is] more than four times the current capacity of Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s biggest oil producer.

Personally, I feel that one Saudi Arabia is more than enough, and that there's very little chance of us finding the equivalent of one more, let alone four. So we better get used to doing more with less, or figure out a way to make new fuel fast. Enjoy the low prices today ... the days of inexpensive oil are certainly numbered.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A DOD without Oil ...

... today, would probably work about as well as the Tin Man at the start of the Wizard of Oz. In fact, in the movie, the only thing that puts him back in motion is oil.

Frequent readers of this blog will note I'm making the case that DOD, far from being a laggard in energy transformation, has compelling mission-based and structural reasons for being out in front in innovation, clearing the way for the rest of the nation. 

I recently found back-up from a guy who penned this fantastic and prescient paper: "War Without Oil: A Catalyst For True Transformation" 2 years ago while at Air War College. Author Col. Michael J. Hornitschek, Zoomie class of 1989 and now Vice Commander, 62nd Airlift Wing, McChord AFB, Washington, has spent a heck of a lot of time in and around tankers including the KC-10 and KC-135. That means a lot of time immersed in the business of fuel, and clearly it went to his head.

On page 3 of his 95 page paper (now linked under "DOD Enery Reports" in this blog's sidebar) Hornitschek nails it:
It is precisely the long acquisition lead times of these petroleum-fueled weapon systems [e.g., F-22A Raptor], in conjunction with their decades-long life cycles [e.g, the 45-year-old B-52 fleet], that will uniquely force the DoD to be the first government agency to address an approaching global oil peak.
I also like the boldness of Chapter 3 - Creating an Assured Energy Strategy, which includes a "Three Stage Approach" as follows:
  • Stage I – 2006-2015 Near Term Strategy
  • Stage II – 2020-2035 Mid Term Strategy
  • Stage III – 2035-2050 The “New Energy Force”
It may not turn out to be right or completely do-able as described. And new things will surely come along that neither the author nor anyone else could have foreseeon, but you've got to admire his guts for laying out a case.  More of this, please.

Photo courtesy of Liem Bahneman @ Flickr

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Current Events: Oil Price Yo-Yo now Walking the Dog

Once they have the basic down-then-up motion mastered, one of the very first tricks novice yo-yo practitioners attempt is called "Walking the Dog". This is where the down motion is followed by the yo-yo continuing to spin while staying down (called a "Sleeper") and is then allowed to roll across the floor a bit. With practice, a prolonged "walk" will end with a subtle wrist flick that sends the yo yo flying back up to return to the hand from which it came. Very predictable once you get the hang of it.

Translation: oil's at $59 a barrel tonight and showing no sign of returning to $100, let alone its recent high of $145 anytime soon. And attending the oil price fall, US gasoline prices have dropped for the 17th straight week and are now under $2 a gallon in some locations. In fact, it's not clear that the oil price yo-yo is even in "walk" phase yet.

At the same time, anemic US auto manufacturers are indicating that they're on the verge of collapsing if they don't get a Federal infusion pretty soon. They've already been lent billions to retool to build cars that get far better mileage. Left to their own devices, they weren't ready for this summer's price spike, and they're not ready for the economic downturn now. Lessons for those steering the US economy and industrial base are many, not the least of which is that in a peak oil climate, whatever the price of oil is today, that's what it's least likely to be tomorrow. Ditto for 1, 5, 10, 20 years down the road. Future DOD planning needs to take this volatility as a given and not let it get in the way of specifying systems that are far less impacted by this highly volatile commodity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Army Energy Strategy Disruptive to Stovepipes

When it comes to energy, if you're a status quo-loving logistician for the Army, your days are numbered. A recent convening of Army leadership revealed the very forward thinking that has been going on in Army energy circles of late. The kind of thinking that has correctly identified institutional interia as the enemy, and is taking bold steps to defeat it:
  • Army Secretary Pete Geren recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Partnerships Paul Bollinger to "build a team that will work across the Army and try to break down the stovepipes."
  • Geren approved the creation of the Army Senior Energy Council on Sept. 26
  • Comprised of more than two dozen senior civilian and uniformed leaders, the body is co-chaired by Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, and Keith Eastin, the service's assistant secretary for installations and environment
Stovepipes, it turns out, burn more oil than all the tanks, planes and ships in the arsenal combined. The full article is here at

Photo courtesy of US Army's Soldiers Media Center on Flickr

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lockheed "Gets It"

I want you to focus on a quote from a senior Lockheed exec whose job it is to understand the future. Speaking of DOD's emerging appreciation for energy constraints, he said :
Energy availability and cost has direction implications on DOD requirements, operations and costs.... National security strategy may need to be changed. Roles and missions of the services may be affected as well.
This isn't about subtle changes and adjustments; we're talking potentially sweeping changes across DOD and its suppliers.

This, from David Potts, Director of Planning & Analysis at LMC, at a recent GEIA conference, reminded me of a another post on recent comments from DNI Mike McConnell, another man paid to see the future with some clarity, when he said increasing contention for scarce resources, including oil, may well drive more international conflicts in the near future. 

So at a minimum the DNI and one leader at Lockheed get it. But you might well ask: Do the folks who write the JCIDS for DOD? Do the other integrators and the rest of industry? Does Congress?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

DOD's Oil Clock is Ticking

I'm not exagerating when I tell you Dr. Sohbet Karbuz's "Can the U.S. military move to renewable fuels?" in last month's Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is perhaps the best, most consice summation of the militay's fuel concerns in 2008. Informed by a career of research and monitoring of global energy issues for the International Energy Agency (IEA), Karbuz writes from a consistently constructive point of view, and has been paying particular attention to the DOD for years. Compared with me, he's a true expert, and yet my own observations are almost completely in sync with his.

From speaking with senior leadership, and watching where they've put the bulk of their recent energy efforts, it seems DOD is more interested in boasting about its big electricity projects, like a very large solar installation at Nellis AFB, or wind turbines a Guantanemo, than in treating the fuel issue like the institutional life and death issue that it is.

Karbuz himself cannot help but draw discouraging conclusions from the current state of DOD energy activities which seem focused on the lesser of its great challenges:
It is a pity that most of the Pentagon's efforts are concentrated on generating electricity, which accounts for less than 12 percent of military energy consumption, and not on oil, which accounts for more than 75 percent.
Hopefully with the advent of the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) initiative in the 2009 NDAA, we'll start to see a change. But it's got to come fast, to an institution that's often averse to change. It will be decades before the the systems designed today are fielded. Do you the next planes and ships are being designed with fuel efficiency or new fuels in mind?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

DNI Mike McConnell Sees Global Trouble Ahead ...

... and oil is right in the middle of it. Iraq and Afghanistan have been no walk in the park, and both will demand serious attention and consume substantial DOD resources for years. But if DNI is correct, things may only get busier for DOD in the coming two decades:
Territorial expansion and military rivalries are not likely, but cannot be ruled out, and the perception that oil is scarce could trigger conflicts between states.
I think he's being overly conservative using the term "the perception." In the 20th century we saw oil play a strategic role in economic and military success. In the 21st century there are already clear sigals that oil and gas price and availability are key leverage points for Russia and OPEC.  The pressure will come not just from the supply side, but from countries jockeying for what they see as their rightful part of the supply. As we move further into this century, McConnell sees that:

By 2025, China is likely to have the world's second largest economy and to have emerged as a major military power, the largest importer of natural resources and the largest contributor to world pollution.

It's all about energy security: the more we can move DOD and the rest of the economy off the oil standard, the less vulnerabile the US will be to the turmoil McConnell and many others see coming. Those working the problem today know it's a tough, tough problem. They need all the help we can give them.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Conservation Voltage Regulation Could Lighten the Grid's Load

Sometimes good info comes via circuitous routes. From Congressman Bartlett's office and DOD work in Hawaii, via friends at the DC Energy Consensus, please allow me to introduce Seattle-based MicroPlanet. Their Smart Grid technology reduces the amount of voltage required across the grid by reducing voltage requirements at the point of use.

Of course, the DOD needs to follow through on its own recommendations to better secure itself against the risk of grid failure, but anything that can be done to solve the problem on the other side, by reducing grid wear, tear ... and waste, has to be a welcome addition.  

Note: while MicroPlanet has done preliminary testing with the Army and the Marines, this is an early stage company still burning equity investment cash to support development work. But its technology sure seems promising ... stay tuned.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Troubling Tanker Talk

I learned one thing doing source selections at Hanscom AFB in the 1980's in an environment where every award was protested: don't change the rules mid-course. A recent article from  Aerospace Daily & Defense Report comments on the position of Pentagon acquisition chief John Young on the ongoing tanker replacement saga:
Lifecycle cost would be too thorny because of fluctuations in areas outside the Pentagon's control. For example, the price of oil recently dropped, dramatically reducing the lifecycle cost of both aircraft. However, fuel efficiency of the two bids were different, and given the challenge of projecting such costs in the future, Young says the simplest way of conducting a price competition is to focus solely on the up-front price associated with developing and buying the first aircraft.
I wanted to make the case that this procurement, more than any other, should take into account the DOD's own new policy on including the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) in its lifecycle and logistic projections for new systems. But adding that on here mid-course would just be adding to the folly. USAF either needs to award this contract based on the criteria it published when it released the RFP, or it needs to kill this acquisition and start fresh. I'd go with the latter of course.

And this time put fuel efficiency at the top of the requirements list. It's disturbing that leadership is so easily swayed by day-to-day fluctuations in the price of energy, when the overall price trends are clearly pointing up, and at risk of spiking on a moment's notice. Haven't we learned anything from the recent several years of energy-induced budget shock? It's not just the high price, it's the volatility that's beating up DOD budgeting and procurement. See posts herehere, here and here.

KC-135 Photo (from inside F-15) courtsy of USAF & James Gordon

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Executive Order 13423 Drives GSA Change

There's a new energy vehicle in town, though it's not a plug-in hybrid. Washington Technology has a brief announcement of the update and more info can be found here from the GSA itself under the 03FAC Facilities Maintenance & Management schedule.

This contract will make it much easier for Federal Agencies to respond to the renewable energy and energy management objectives outlined by President Bush in last year's Executive Order 13423 (see link in sidebar)

As part of the announcement, GSA outlined the services offered via this schedule, including:
  • Energy Audit Services
  • Energy Management Program Support, Planning and Strategies
  • Water Audits, Management and Conservation Solutions
  • Resource Efficiency Management and Training
  • Innovative Renewable Energy Solutions
  • Building Commissioning Services
  • Metering and Advanced Metering Services 
It's all good stuff.  And as good as it is for Federal leadership to set new energy goals and pronounce success metrics and targets, it's even better when they put the keys in the agencies' hands so they can drive themselves in this new and greatly improved direction.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Boeing Going to Biofuels Within 3 Years

It's hard to separate truth from fiction on this one, but apparently: 
Biofuel-powered aircraft could be carrying millions of passengers around the world within three years, according to Boeing. Darrin Morgan, an environmental expert at the US jet manufacturer, said the group was expecting official approval of biofuel use in the near future. "The certification will happen much sooner than anybody thought," he said. "We are thinking that within three to five years we are going to see approval for commercial use of biofuels - and possibly sooner."
Seems similar to the the Air Force's recent certification activities across the entire USAF inventory approving its planes to fly on blended JP8 and synth fuels derived from coal and other sources. As the article points out, the trick for Boeing, Lockheed, EADS and the rest of the aircraft manufacturing and operating ecosystem is not about finding fuels that work with existing engines - they do. It's about making the new fuels, economically and in volomes that might begin to make a difference. So far, they don't.

Photo courtesy of Boeing

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

AF Amping Up on UAV pilots

Based on a recent article culled from, this post falls into the brainteaser category. I don't know whether the advent and widespread adoption of UAVs is going to be a net positive or net negative from a fuel usage point of view, but I do know the answer will have a big impact on DOD planning and budgeting activities. I've looked around and can't find any published research which maps out typical fuel consumption rates of manned aircraft used to perform similar surveillance (and occasional air-to-ground) missions. You'd think someone in SAF/AQ would be working on this, and if they didn't do it on their own initiative, that somebody else at OSD would be hammering on them for this type of info. 

Secretary Gates has demonstrated more than once his disatisfaction with USAF's pace of innovation and ability to change:
The urgent push for more drone pilots has been spurred by blunt demands from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He has criticized the Air Force's failure to move more quickly to meet war commanders' needs. And he set up a task force in April to find more innovative ways to get the aircraft to the battlefield more quickly.
If they were simply a one-to-one replacement for manned aircraft, as many pilots feared, it might be simpler. But as with many new technologies, UAVs unique attributes mean they can deliver 24x7 capabilities commanders never even dreamed of having until recently ... and suddenly deam essential:
A senior Air Force officer told The Associated Press that by the end of September 2011, the goal is to have 50 unmanned combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day, largely over Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently there are 30.
So the AF is coming up with entirely new programs for cranking out UAVs and UAV pilots in large batches:
To generate the pilots for the increased flights, the Air Force hopes to create separate pilot pipelines for its manned and unmanned aircraft, said Col. Curt Sheldon, assistant to the director of air operations for unmanned aircraft issues.
Clearly, though, even with these new programs, it's not going to be nearly enough to satisfy demand:
I don't know that you could ever get (a drone) to everybody who wants one," Sheldon said. "I believe it is virtually insatiable. We are pedaling fast, we are working hard to meet that need."
We sure do live in interesting times, don't we?

USAF Photo of MQ-1 Predators, Tallil AB, Iraq by James Gordon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Event Announcement: Army Energy Security Forum

You may have been encouraged to learn just how proactive the Army is being with Energy Security from this post a couple of days ago. If you want to build on that and learn in person what the Army is up to in energy, across the board, I recommend you get to the registration site pronto. It's cheap for regular folks ($150) but open to government folks by invite only.

Date: Nov 17 (one day session)
Location: Landsdowne Resort, Landsdowne VA 
Working Groups on:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
  • Nuclear
  • Conventional Fuels
  • Investment and Contracting
  • Regulations and Laws and Policies
  • Grids (includes microgrids, mini grids, etc.)
  • Improving Vehicle Fuel Efficiency through Management and Technology
  • New Technologies for Energy Efficiency/Demand Reduction
I'd like to be there, but will be getting ready for the 4th Annual Conference on Clean Energy in Boston. But for those of you who can make it to Landsdowne: Go and get smart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fuel Cost Volatility Tortuous for DOD Planning

Lately I've had a couple of folks say to me that with the cost of oil down to $60 a barrel and Gulf gas pumping at $2.60 in Boston, it looks like the oil-energy troubles are over, and that renewables are screwed. Well, while I'm just as happy as anyone now filling up his tank and getting change back from a $50, my daily exposure to DOD issues tells me that this energy story doesn't end quite so neatly.

Perhaps even more than this summer's high fuel costs which slammed DOD budgets, it's the uncertainty about the future price that's the killer. If you were mapping out the cost of fuel at FOBs for the Army or Marine Units in Afghanistan for the next 3 years, what number would you use as a placeholder price-per-gallon? I'm not even talking about the fully burdened price ... I just mean the price for a gallon of DF2 diesel. Good luck with that.

In Thomas Friedman's latest book Hot, Flat & Crowded, Friedman takes David Edwards' perfect distillation of the situation "Uncertainly Costs Money" and runs with it:
It is now the fossil fuels that have increasingly uncertain prices attached to them (and prices that are trending upward), and it is the renewables that have increasingly certain prices attached to them (and prices that are trending downward).
And you can take that to the bank. Strategic take away: the more DOD can factor in reduced fuel consumption via improved fuel efficiency and fuel management practices, and the faster it can supplement and (sometimes replace) fossil fuels with renewables, the sooner this (budget) hostage situation will be over.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reducing Army Fuel Convoys = Saving Soldiers

I wasn't there, so didn't hear the narrative that accompanied this Army Energy Security deck presented earlier in October. But Mr. Paul Bollinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, put together a great presentation that includes a slide that communicates very clearly with numbers. I'm not sure what period it's covering, but "Tactical Fuel Protection & Logistics" speaks pretty plainly all by itself:
  • Kuwait Fuel to FOB: 431 millions of gallons
  • Fuel trucks needed: 140,075
  • Convoys needed: 9,332
  • Soldiers per convoy trip (Fuel trucks, protection, other support): 120
  • Soldier trips: 644,360
  • Each 1% Fuel Savings: 6,444 Fewer Soldier trips (my italics)
Remember, each of these trips puts our soldiers in harm's way and keeps them out of other roles where they might be, well, more "proactive" with adversaries. So it's not a stretch to say that reducing demand for fuel at the FOBs (via process changes and/or energy efficiency improvements) is directly correlated with saving soldiers' lives.

Switching gears from tactical fuel issues to installations, slides 13 - 17 are also good and show hypothetical Army deployment locations for solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass. Sure it's just a Powerpoint dec, but it certainly gives the impression that Bollinger and his staff are thinking through the energy security issue and generating plans to turn things around.

Photo Courtesy of Dan at

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smart Grid 2.0

This may be more than you want to know about what's being done to bring our electrical grid out of the stone age, but I'm optimistic that some will give it a shot. Rob Day at @Ventures and Greentech Media lays out the current and evolving state of grid automation tech on the demand and supply sides. Will these developments make DOD bases' dependency on the brittle grid less of a problem in the short term? No. The mid term, then? I don't think so. 

But when enough glitches occur to generate some some serious money and national will, thanks to Day and some of the co's he calls out, it appears the technology will be more than ready to re-build it right. So DOD, keep one eye on developments that could make the grid more reliable in the future, but please keep the pedal to the metal on the NDAA 2009, Section 335 "Mitigation of Power Outage Risks for DOD Facilities and Activities" activities just getting started (see post from earlier this week).  

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Innovator's Hell: Frontline's "Heat" Burns Fossil Energy Co's

Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen's seminal 1997 book: The Innovator's Dilemma demonstrated how large successful companies, ever mindful of being responsive to their best customers' needs, can sometimes be taken down by disruptive technologies that re-order the dynamics of the certain market segments. And shows that this happens right in front of the large co's eyes because they simply cannot make themselves retire business models that have worked so well for so many years.  

Enter PBS's Frontline special aired last night: "Heat," and its visually stunning treatment of environmental carnage wreaked by the world's largest coal, oil and automotive companies, including AEP, ExxonMobile and GM, with obedient US politicians in their pockets. One thing is clear: there's no innovation happening in these companies that doesn't involve improving yields from their core lines of business. When asked about renewable energy tech or other innovations to help reduce CO2 emissions or improve energy efficiency, robotic VPs of PR utter canned greenwashed statements that communicate only disdain for having to respond to these questions at all.

It's safe to say that the game-changing tech breakthroughs that are going to markedly improve the energy posture of the DOD are not going to come from these lumbering dinosaurs, but rather from innovators and nimble new co's working towards entirely different goals with entirely different assumptions. Because of its size and culture of innovation, DOD has a big say in whether this happens sooner or later ... or too late.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Day Oil Loses its Strategic Value: Geopolitical Preview

That day isn't today, but it's worth shooting for. With the price of oil falling as fast as it rose to its near $150/barrel max 3 months ago, and the fortunes of 3 US adversaries going down (for the moment) with it, Jim Woolsey's comments on salt are worth reading. I heard him do this piece at an MIT debate a few weeks ago, but this excerpt is from NRO last year:
Not long ago, technology broke the power of another strategic commodity. Until around the end of the nineteenth century salt had such a position because it was the only means of preserving meat. Odd as it seems today, salt mines conferred national power and wars were even fought over control of them. Today, no nation sways history because it has salt mines. Salt is still a useful commodity for a range of purposes. We import some salt, so if one defines independence as autarky we are not “salt independent”. But to most of us there is no “salt dependence” problem at all — because electricity and refrigeration decisively ended salt’s monopoly of meat preservation, and thus its strategic importance.
Unfortunately, oil prices are not dropping today because newer forms of energy have replaced it, but rather because the global economy is taking two steps back. Some are celebrating, but on a DOD Round Table telecon yesterday, DDR&E's Mindy Montgomery noted it's not just high energy prices that cause problems, but also the havoc extreme price volatility plays with the DOD budgeting process. Who reading this post in Oct 2008 would care to predict the price of a barrel of oil this time next year? What if your job/military/country depended on it? The sooner folks like Ms. Montgomery, OSD and the rest of DOD help new energy technology turn oil into salt, the better off we'll be.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A 2nd Energy Security Gem in NDAA 2009

As called out in the DSB Task Force Report on Energy Feb 2008, and discussed on the DOD Energy Blog several times already including here, DOD bases' near total reliance on the electrical grid has been considered a major vulnerability for years. Only problem: leadership has done almost nothing to address it ... until now.

The just-signed NDAA 2009 has a Section 335 titled "Mitigation of Power Outage Risks for DOD Facilities and Activities." Here's a part of the language:
The Secretary of Defense shall conduct a comprehensive technical and operational risk assessment of the risks posed to mission critical installations, facilities, and activitiesof the Department of Defense by extended power outages resulting from failure of the commercial electricity supply or grid and related infrastructure.
And it goes on to say SECDEF will then try to figure out ways to mitigate (i.e., deal with) the risks ID'd above in a prioritized manner. As I said at the end of yesterday's post on the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF), I'll be taking an action item to track DOD's progress in making good on this pledge. 

DOD sure does have a lot on its energy plate these days. But that's a heck of a lot better than just a few years ago, when strategic energy issues weren't even on the menu.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DOD Gets Real with the True Cost of Fuel in 2009

I just got a heads-up from a new friend at the DC Energy Consensus regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2009.  You can read this for yourself in: Section 2925, DOD energy management, SEC. 332. CONSIDERATION OF FUEL LOGISTICS SUPPORT REQUIREMENTS IN PLANNING, REQUIREMENTS DEVELOPMENT, AND ACQUISITION PROCESSES.

But here's the take away: a few days ago President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and this time it included something new and special from a DOD Energy point of view: it included language to force program managers and other leaders to consider the true costs of fuel in all new procurements.  Although you may not believe it, they have never done this before. 

The term of art is the fully-burdened cost of fuel, or FBCF, and it is to become a programmatic Key Performance Parameter (KPP) from this point forward. Actually, you're probably better off going here first: see Chris DiPetto, DUSD Acquisition & Technology, recent Powerpoint on "DOD Energy Demand" and the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF). I liked and took a couple of DiPetto's statements right off the page, including:
  • DoD Planning Processes Undervalue Fuel And Its Delivery Costs and DoD Business Practices and Culture Disincentivize Strategic Investment
  • FBCF is a force planning variable
  • FBCF is an input to requirements and the acquisition process
  • FBCF is a denominator for metrics
  • FBCF is a facilitator for portfolio analysis
  • FBCF is a composite of capability and cost
There's a lot more to say on this, and I'll plan to come back to FBCF 2009 shortly.  In particular, will be looking at how comprehensively and how quickly it's really being implemented.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Be There or Be Square: Military Energy & Fuels Conference Next Week

A friend of mine from Draper Labs in Cambridge just mailed me the brochure for this. I realize this is short notice if you haven't heard of it yet, but it appears an excellent DOD Energy conference is slated for next week in Las Vegas on Oct 23-24. Perhaps you were going to be there anyway to catch up on some reading? I definitely recognize a number of participating panelists from the oft-cited DSB Energy Task Force, including: 
  • Mr. Wayne Arny - Deputy Under Secretary, Installations and Environment, USD/AT
  • Mr. Chris DiPetto - Deputy Director, Systems and Software Engineering, OUSD/AT
  • Mr. Don Juhasz - Chief, Army Energy and Utility Programs, ACSIM
  • Mr. Dan Mathis - Deputy Division Head, Mission Assurance, NSWC
  • Ms. Pamela Serino - Chief, Product Technology and Standardization, DESC/DLA
I would go if I could, but I probably won't be there.  For everyone's sake, hopefully in this case, what happens in Vegas re: DOD Energy won't stay in Vegas.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sullivan @

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SkyBuilt Mobile Power, Base Grid Dependency and the Brittle Grid

If you've read this blog a few times during its relatively short existence, you may have noticed I keep coming back to the Feb 2008, Defense Science Board Task Force report on Energy and the DOD. One of the two main problems the task force calls out had to do with energy security related to the enormous amount of fuel DOD needs to operate. The other has to do with how totally dependent DOD bases are on getting electricity from the grid. According to DOD and DOE senior leaders I've had a chance to talk with recently, solving both of these problems is considered absolutely critical.

Yet while work to address fuel dependency gets lots of press, working to free bases of their over reliance on the brittle (i.e. unreliable) grid, if it's happening, is less visible. Last week while discussing the STAR-TIDES program that includes mobile and often renewable sources of power, Dr. Linton Wells, Distinguished Research Fellow and Force Transformation Chair at NDU,  said In-Q-Tel-backed SkyBuilt could possibly play a helpful role. Check out their site and see whether you think their technologies could scale to the levels needed to keep an operational base operational in a time of natural disaster or terrorism.

Photo courtesy of SkyBuilt Power

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fuel Cells are the Wearable Winners

You gotta like the way DOD is ferreting out game-changing new energy tech these days. Read about who just won the million dollar prize for lightweight, mobile power sources for soldiers here. Details of the competition were listed on The DOD Energy Blog last week in this post.  Turns out fuel cells were the way to go ... if only you had known !!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

True Pentagon Energy Leadership ... or Base-by-Base Initiative?

In yesterday's post I highlighted some of the findings of a recent IEEE paper on current and coming alt energy deployments in DOD. What I didn't get a chance to point out was the paper's mixed message on leadership. On one hand, IDA consultant Thomas Morehouse was quoted as saying that recent regulation has had little bearing on DOD energy actions:
"There is no energy policy. There is no coordinated Defense Department program for renewable energy deployment and no single office in the Pentagon that tracks it ... The projects so far happened largely because ... a particular base commander somewhere [is] enthusiastic about doing this and puts in the effort to make it happen."
On the other hand, the author paraphrases Commander Brad Hancock, DOD Assoc Dir for Energy and Utilities, as saying the military is "more than on track" to reach its 2025 goals.

From what I can tell, whether or not it is organizing as formally as it should to get this work done, the combination of light regulatory guidance supported by some leadership at the top, is helping. Combined with the initiative of numerous base and mission support group commanders who want to see their bases (and the DOD in general) do better in the age of massive energy uncertainty, and who work within extremely tight budgets, it appears the DOD is moving in the right direction. And hopefully, at the right speed.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

DOD Renewables Deployment Update

IEEE provides a nice round-up of current and near-future DOD renewables deployments.  At 11.9% today, DOD is working overtime to reach its goal of 25% renewable power by 2025. Here's a few of them for you (I've listed capacities when provided):
  • 270 MWs of geothermal @ China Lake, California (now) 
  • 14 MWs of solar @ Nellis AFB, Nevada (now)
  • 3.8 MWs of wind @ Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (now)
  • 30 MWs of geothermal @ Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada (coming)
  • Geothermal @ Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada (coming)
  • Wind @ Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas (coming)
  • 8+ MWs of solar, biomass, geothermal @ McGuire AFB, New Jersey (coming)
  • Solar and wind @ Fort Huachuca, Arizona (now)
  • Solar @ Fort Drum, New York (now)
Lots of activity, lots of opportunity. In the face of tremendous budget pressures, renewables projects have to pay for themselves, and quickly. Fortunately, for most of these, when coupled with renewables incentives in certain states, that's exactly what's happening.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

STAR-TIDE's Mobile, Sustainable Power Solutions

Inspired in part by RMI's Amory Lovins, this is worth learning about, so please bear with me. Dr. Linton Wells, NDU Transformational Chair and Distinguished Fellow, and former Undersecretary of Defense for NII, briefed a small group of bloggers on Wednesday about an ambitious (and ambitiously named) program called STAR-TIDES. I'll spell it out for you. TIDES = Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support. And TIDES is just one small part of a larger intiative called STAR, which = Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research. Besides NDU, other orgs involved on the US side include OSD and JFCOM. And yes there are other sides, because this program isn't just international, it's also cross service, cross agency (e.g., DOD, DHS) and cross cultural.

The energy aspect comes into play in its capacity to deploy in a variety of often-sustainable (e.g., solar, wind) mobile power configurations (small, medium, large) into stressed environments to help out folks in need. I'll be posting on this again, but for more info now please see the program's web site here, and if you want something more concrete, visit Fort McNair today or the Pentagon courtyard next week, where demonstration units on display. Key mobile power participants include Solar Stik and SkyBuilt Power.

Photo courtesy of Solar Stik

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Elegant HVAC Retrofit Solution Could Save Bases and FOBs Tons of Energy

Here's a new company - PaceControls - I recently spoke with who have something DOD could use to save 10 - 25% on heating and cooling bills across the board. And yet they haven't spent much time approaching the military with their solutions because trying to find the right DOD doors to knock on can be a harrowing experience, especially when there are other more accessible clients. Candidate programs that come to mind are the Army RDECOM's HI-Power, OSD & JFCOM's STAR-TIDES, and every DOD base charged with reducing its energy consumption each year (uh, that would be all of them). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Complex New Energy Landscape for DOD R&D

Food for thought: Imagine you're in charge of DARPA or the Office of Naval Research (ONR), or the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) or Army's Research, Development & Engineering Command (RDECOM), and you've been tasked by your service's secretary or the SECDEF to investigate new technologies that can be implemented swiftly to improve DOD's energy posture. Thanks to Greentechmedia for providing a detailed, interactive chart that lets you drill down to examples in each category.

Even with a generous staff of highly competent tech directors and research scientists, do you think you and your team would be able to provide uniformly deep coverage on all of these potentially promising vectors? My point is: these orgs are doing great and important work, and it's incumbent on the rest of the government, industry and academia to give them all the help they can muster.