Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Highest Costs of Oil

I found this article about Army energy when some helpful folks at the Pentagon recommended I seek out the "Green Hawks". Immediately I found James Wolsey, CIA chief under Bill Clinton, and I remembered an earlier article describing how Wolsey and several other conservative government senior leaders had taken to driving hybrids. Why? Not because they had turned into Birkenstock-wearing peace mongers, but rather because they decided foreign oil was hurting the country. Big time. And they were going to start doing something about it.

This is the quote that really got me, though, and it's not from Wolsey. Actually, it's a paraphrase. Dan Nolan, who runs energy-related projects for the US Army's Rapid Equipping Force, said it was not until the cost of fuel was measured in American blood that the commanders started to understand the real cost of that fuel. Nolan then continued:

“Our transports have never been as vulnerable and exposed as they are in Iraq. More oil is not the solution, it is the problem.”
Read the article to catch some of the great adjustments and adaptions Nolan and company have made. Some of these are Iraq specific. Others indicate a new approach to powering field units that will now be part of Army doctrine in every theater.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

2 Types of Energy Dependence for DOD

It's a marginal analogy, but as the US could improve its fuels-energy security through increased independence from (often hostile) foreign oil suppliers, DOD installations could achieve greater electrical-energy security by reducing their near total dependence on the (decidedly fragile) US electrical grid.

The 2005 DOD Energy Manager's Handbook, PDF linked here, is an epic work of 250 pages, and it is the master energy measurement and management guide, albeit on an installation/base level, that the DSB said is sorely lack at the DOD enterprise level.

I haven't made my way through it entirely, and it's hard to imagine a beleaguered mission support group commander or his chief civil engineer having the bandwidth to assimilate it either. But if they're selective, it's all here: organizing for energy management, starting a program, monitoring and metering, analyzing projects, energy efficiency, conservation of water and electricity, and on and on. All good stuff.

So unless I missed these sections, I have only 2 critiques: (1) that renewables only merit a 11 page discussion and it's a light treatment at best. Maybe that seemed right in 2005, but it sure seems wrong in 2008. And (2) that dependency on the fragile grid isn't discussed in more detail, and that moves to add more local generation via on-site renewables and/or on-site clean(er) coal or gas (or other) power aren't discussed, let alone incentivized in some way. This was written four years ago however, so I'll be checking to see if a revision is in the works, as well as whether an enterprise level equivalent is on the way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fuel Price Yo-Yo & DOD Implications

I'm not the first to put it like this. There's an oil price yo-yo going on right now: price goes up, use goes down. Use goes down, price goes down. Price goes down, use goes up, etc. It could be like this for quite a while. However, some people are aiming to give this yo-yo a jerk.

Former SAP VP Shai Agassi has a plan to get the world's cars off oil. I wrote about him here in January when gas was hitting $3 a gallon, and Wired just did a cover story on him here with gas in the US pulling back below $4.

Well, there are a heck of a lot of folks working on this problem and he's just one guy, relatively young, and with very little energy or transportation experience. So he's probably not going to do much, right? But what if he's even partially successful?

Fewer combustion engine cars will mean lower oil demand. Look what's happened to US demand and gas prices in the last few weeks. If entire countries get off oil, demand will plummet and prices will drop. Perhaps this means the Air Force and the air industry will get a a longer runway to develop alternative fuels and approaches as jet fuel remains more affordable, longer?

As a friend if mine said, though, the yo-yo effect doesn't go on forever. At some point further along the Peak Oil curve, use goes down and prices still go up. Well before then it will be good if the Air Force has transitioned fully to the synthetic fuels its aggressively pursing today. F-15s just hit mach 2 on synth fuels !!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Seeing Peak Oil 51 Years Out

Sometimes a writer just nails it. This time columnist Rod Dreher wrote a great column in last Friday's Dallas Morning News , which reached way back and concluded:

A famed U.S. military leader has warned that the fossil-fuel supply on which American civilization depends utterly will run out someday in the 21st century and that our nation cannot afford to place our hope in "the sentimental belief that the things we fear will never really happen."

"I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants – those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age," said Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy.

In 1957. We've wasted a half-century of precious time, another non-renewable resource. We probably don't have another one to spare.
I've got nothing to add, except maybe we're beginning to wake up. Maybe just in time. Maybe not. I like that a military man fifty years ago could see clearly what many still cannot see today. Dreher's full column is here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

DOD Geothermal Update

Here's an excellent and highly informative (if only slightly outdated) Powerpoint presentation on DOD Geothermals. First, it's an excellent primer on Geothermal energy, which the author most often refers to as Ground Source Heat Pumps (GTHPs). And it goes into substantial detail outlining current and future deployments, cost factors and savings, building use types, etc. Highly recommended.

No mention of the EGS systems discussed in previous post on Geothermals, nor does it appear that energy security is a driver. More likely it's pure dollar savings and to show compliance with Green Fed initiatives published earlier like the National Energy Act of 2005 which sets facility energy savings targets.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Geothermal Power for DOD Grid Skipping

Normally I keep my blogging worlds separate, but the minute I published a recent post on geothermal energy for the Discovery-Powrtalk site, I knew it was a promising application for DOD and I'd want to mention here at the DOD Energy Blog.

To recap 2008 DOD power challenges most simply, one can say there are two major problems, each that brings substantial mission risk: (1) the enormous amount of fossil fuel required to operate mobility systems like planes, tactical vehicles, ships, etc., and (2) the precariously vulnerable position most bases and installations are in due to their near-total dependency on the grid for their electricity requirements. The brittleness of the grid is well documented, and its susceptibility to natural and man-made outages (think: sabotage) is well documented.

This post is about a possible solution to grid dependency, by giving each base its own local source of continuous power by tapping into an energy source that's below the base. This decentralized approach to power production becomes possible when a more proactive design for extracting geothermal energy is employed, vs. tapping geothermal sites only along fault lines. While there's still some work to be done building out the potential of what the DOE calls Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), this appears to have real merit, and can work in tandem with other on-base or off-base alternative energy platforms like solar and wind.

Note: some traditional geothermal sites are already deployed in DOD. For an example, see NWC China Lake which has enough capacity to power the entire base. But the advent of EGS designs may make it possible to power many more (if not most) bases and free them from concerns about the national grid.

DOD Energy Tech Update: Boeing's Blended Wing Body (BWB) Design

One of the 3 new technologies touted by the 2008 Defense Science Board (DSB) report as key to reducing the Air Force's (and therefore DOD's) dependence on oil is a new approach to aircraft design. Like their commercial jet siblings, military transport planes and bombers have employed the tried and true "tubes with wings" design for more than half a century. But although much R&D remains for Boeing and NASA among others, the advent of the B-2 flying wing bomber signals change is coming.

What's fueling the desire for change? Well, the high cost of jet fuel of course. The Air Force spent tens of billions of dollars on fuel last year, and every time a barrel of oil goes up $10, AF fuel costs rise over $600 million. In addition to pushing for more UAVs and new synthetic fuels, lately, more than ever, they've considered how to do the job without flying as many hours.

Most studies show 20 - 30% fuel savings are possible, and that equates to a huge amount of money DOD could put towards other critical requirements. The DSB report says BWB:
... offers the possibility of 2x gains in range and payload, and of 5-10x in system level fuel efficiency. If the technology can be successfully applied to both tankers and bombers, the potential exists for far fewer sorties needed to accomplish a given mission. The enhanced range of both bombers and tankers would offer the possibility of far fewer aircraft devoted to a single mission, freeing aircraft to conduct other missions or to focus more firepower on a given target.
So clearly, it's about fuel and money savings, but the range improvements have substantial mission implications as well. For a sampling of material on this topic, here are a few additional links:
And although you may receive notice via the web that we are very close to seeing these craft come to fruition, this link from a fact-checking site confirms that there is a large amount of work left to be done before these planes are ready for prime time. Consensus seems to be 2015 or 2020, so although I wish it were otherwise, that likely means 2025.

X-48 Photo courtesy of Boeing, Inc.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Georgian - South Ossetian Fallout

The Telegraph article by Rafael Kandiyoti linked here begins:
There are increasing reports from Georgia that Russian troops are systematically destroying oil transportation links. If confirmed, the tales of destruction may provide the best evidence that they do indeed intend to withdraw. From the beginning, oil and gas transmission has been at the centre of this conflict.
Once again, military actions, which appear at first motivated by purely political concerns, reveal their true energy-based objectives. Europe is in greater peril from the current Georgian crisis, but all of this factors into DOD (and in this case, NATO) thinking about energy protection missions, as well as energy efficiency and alternative energy gains ... gains that will eventually reduce Russia's economic and political, if not military, clout. But don't hold your breath.

Map from CIA World Factbook

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oil Majors: Losing Control, Decreasing Output

In today's NYT, a worrisome indicator: output by the largest western oil co's had decline 5 straight quarters, due to what some executives are calling "geopolitical peak oil". Companies like ExxonMobil have the technology and financial resources to extract lots more oil, but the increasing nationalization of the world's most promising fields is keeping the real experts on the sidelines. And it looks like this is the way it's going to be going forward. More reason DOD needs to burn the midnight oil (whale oil?) to find alternative means to power and transport its vehicles.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Oil prices continued to fall all last week and today, influenced more, it seems, by a tropical storm approaching Florida than by a real storm over-running a key strategic energy ally. I think this means we still don't get the security component to Peak Oil. Unfortunately, I think in time we will.

WSJ on Georgian Fallout

The bloggers at Environmental Capital explore a possible silver lining in the recent Russian moves in Georgia. This could be the true wake up call that's needed in Europe ... and the US. Still, a wake up call is one thing. Waking up, getting out of bed, making coffee and doing productive stuff is quite another.

Friday, August 15, 2008

More from DSB on DOD Energy Management: "No One's in Charge"

In the report section on managing fuel demand, the Defense Science Board task force found:

"There is no enterprise wide strategy for managing DoD’s energy usage. No one office is in charge; there are few objectives or metrics, and no one is accountable."

In my calls around DOD and DOE, I have found not person or office who claims to step up to thiss task. And when someone thinks they know an org that might have some role in DOD-wide energy management, my follow-on call reveals they were mistaken. The Air Force seems to be out in front on this, and yet they don't come close to what's going on in the commercial sector with company's like WalMart (will discuss in upcoming post).

Here's one more DSB excerpt that paints a pretty bleak current-state picture:

"Decisions that affect DoD’s demand for energy cut across multiple Undersecretaries, all the Services, the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands (COCOMs) and Defense Agencies. Facility energy managers, specialty functions (e.g., medical, laboratory, industrial), fleet vehicles, non-developmental deployed systems, procurement policy governing commercial equipment purchase, and combat and support systems all drive DoD energy use, but are disconnected from each other organizationally, functionally and culturally."
All of which means the scope of the challenge in enormous, and the time to get started fixing this situation is now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Energy Security Alarm

From National Review's Clifford May, a stark assessment of damage caused if a high altitude nuke was exploded over continental USA. Among many negative outcomes, massive, sustained power outages. This makes a strong supporting argument, if you will, for highly distributed power generation, such as renewables deployed on bases and other Fed installations to make those sites far less dependent on the very fragile grid.

Georgian Oil Full Stop

Update: for much more detail and context, see Dr. Karbuz's excellent post on Georgia and Russia here.

This isn't about DOD energy efficiency ... and it is. Geopolitical interests, including recent moves by Russia to take control of the Georgian segment of BTC pipeline, are drawing us in. Flowing through pipe goes approximately 1 million barrels a day destined for Europe and the US. Of course, that's only when it's in operation, and at present it's not.

Scope & Setting the Stage

I'll open with a few posts related to a Defense Science Board (DSB)'s Feb 2008 report. Here is their characterization of DOD energy scope as of EOY 2007, in DSB's own words:
  • DOD is the largest single consumer of energy in the US
  • In 2006, it spent $13.6 billion to buy 110 million barrels of petroleum fuel (about 300,000 barrels of oil each day), and 3.8 billion kWh of electricity
  • This represents about 0.8% of total U.S. energy consumption and 78% of energy consumption by the Federal government
  • Buildings and facilities account for about 25% of the Department’s total energy use
  • DoD occupies over 577,000 buildings and structures worth $712 billion comprising more than 5,300 sites
  • In 2006, the Department spent over $3.5 billion for energy to power fixed installations, and just over $10 billion on fuel for combat and combat related systems
These figures exclude energy used by some contractors that performed “outsourced” DoD functions, but are as accurate as current accounting systems permit

So that's the baseline. It's big, spread out, and consumes a huge amount oil to do the job. It's always been that way, since we phased out horse drawn cannon. And it's going to be this way until we can come up with some better approaches. As you'll see in ensuing posts, DSB has already generated some solid new ideas.