Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DOD Overstimulated on Energy?

Like kids who found the cookie jar and are now on a sugar high, energy advocates in DOD, who've been praying they'd one day get extra money to fund energy projects, are getting their wish and are about to start running around like crazy. This article from today's NY Times contrasts Knoxville, TN, a city that's relatively well prepared to spend its energy stimulus funds wisely and efficiency, with others that are not even close to ready. This quote sums it up well:
The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the country. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.
Can't help but think about DOD and how it's going to handle copious energy funds ($300M for R&D, $100M for Navy and USMC facilities energy efficiency, and $1B for energy efficiency programs including barracks and other DOD buildings), some which are for R&D, but a lot of which are for energy infrastructure. If it had ample time to study, plan and coordinate this activity, then it might be done well. But if the purpose is to spend money fast thereby creating jobs asap, I can imagine it ending badly. On the other hand, perhaps this will be a boon to DOD infrastructure builders and will help the Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Seabees earn their energy efficiency bona fides ... if they haven't done so already.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reader Feedback on "Unintended Costs and Consequences" and Design

One thing is almost always true when someone writes a comment on a DOD Energy Blog post: it's often right on the mark and from a person with a heck of a lot more wisdom and experience than me. That seems to be the case again with a note received this morning from former Army and RMI vet Karl Rábago of The Woodlands, Texas: 
The piece you posted on Unintended Costs and Consequences got my attention. But it took my thinking in a different direction - probably the result of a few years spent at Rocky Mountain Institute. This seems an issue of bad design. Perhaps if energy efficiency (or at least the ability to power down) had been a key performance metric for the systems? At RMI, we used to say that all the really good mistakes are made on the first day - meaning that good design is key. I wonder if the types of systems described in the article could be cost-effectively retrofitted to allow even more energy savings and better performance?
In many ways, it's the first day (day one) for getting energy security strategy and energy efficient design baked in. We've been living with systems designed for another time and an oil rich world and continue to pay for them in fuel, transportation and force protection costs. Modifications may help some of the legacy systems (new engines, winglets, etc.) but ensuring the next tanker/ship/generator/tactical vehicle/facility is designed for today's and tomorrow's world is the job of right now. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Unintended Costs and Consequences of Powering Down

From a January 2009 article on the Naval Institute blog, here's a piece that opened my eyes. I always view energy efficient design and operations as purely beneficial endeavors. They save fuel, money, shorten the log trail, give commanders more options, reduce carbon emissions and are rich in vitamins and minerals. But as usual, the real world is a bit different than what's in my head. In fact, according to these folks in the know at USNI, there are times when the act of saving energy brings other costs and even causes damage. Or causes other desirable metrics to go down the tubes. For example:
“During operation Enduring Freedom, the Dragonfires of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 29 achieved the highest mission rate ever reached by S-3 aircraft–and double that of any other Navy aircraft.  It did this with the second least expensive maintenance costs of any aircraft in the airwing by not completely shutting down the aircraft’s avionics and engines between sorties.”
Nothing snappy to conclude with here. Suffice it to say, I'll attempt to think more broadly about possibly unforeseen and undesirable consequences when considering new processes in an effort to reduce energy usage or improve energy productivity. Thanks Navy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Army FCS May Be First Program to Realize Significant Fuel Savings

How would you feel about refuelling a 26 ton Prius? Said diesel-hybrid vehicle may be available in a few years courtesy of the Army Future Combat Systems (FCS) program if it survives the economic and budgetary meltdown that's currently casting a shadow over all the major programs.

This recent article from National Defense Magazine stresses a point that's important to remember: real fuel efficiency gains in DOD systems are waiting out in the future somewhere.  There's simply no way to wave a magic wand over an M-1 Abrams main battle tank or Bradley APC, which get approximately .5 and 1.7 mpg respectively, and get a big boost in efficiency. That these vehicles consume massive amounts of fuel is no surprise, as fuel efficiency (or productivity, as the Army likes to say) has never been a key performance parameter (KPP) during the requirements definition phase of any major program. According to Army Spokesman Pat Mehney:
There are no available statistics for how much fuel savings the entire FCS fleet will achieve once it arrives. The Army estimates that an FCS heavy brigade combat team will consume 29 percent less fuel than its current counterpart, Mehney said. During a 1,864 mile mission lasting several days, a current heavy brigade combat team consumes an estimated 1.3 million gallons of fuel. But an FCS brigade would only consume 942,000 gallons, according to a simulation study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories. On a paved road, the FCS heavy tracked vehicle travels 1.66 miles per gallon. By comparison, the Abrams tank can go 0.52 miles per gallon. 
FCS, with vehicles still in development, seems poised to shake things up a bit. I'm going to keep an eye on it, both in terms of its survival, as well as the extend to which is can design and deliver tactical systems which consume energy in a markedly more efficient manner. If it does, it will signal an important break with the past.

Photo of Army "Non Line of Site (NLOS) Cannon": Army FCS Program Manager site

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lockheed Hot on the Cleantech Trail

Not long ago a Google search for "Lockheed" and "energy" most likely would have produced hits related to airborne lasers and other direct energy weapons. In early 2009, things have surely changed. In fact, I didn't even have to search; the Lockheed "Special Innovation Symposia" found me in an email this morning with a message of support for solar, smart grid and storage R&D. (BTW, if you want to participate in the symposia, you'd better get a move on. Deadline for submissions is 6 March 2009.)

A little searching ensued and I quickly found the obligatory green-branding material on the corporate site. But what I'm far more interested in, is the potential of this historically great company, home of the fabled Skunk Works, to innovate new energy solutions for DOD and perhaps the nation. This is the company, after all, that gave us the P-38, the U-2 and the SR-71, each an engineering miracle.

In particular, would like to see Lockheed turn up the volume on aircraft R&D, to squeeze much more bang out of every JP8 buck, and to imagine flying systems that don't use conventional jet fuel at all. Now that would be impressive.

Photo of U2: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

MIT Emerging Energy Tech: Regenerative Shocks for Hummers & JLTVs

Though I spend a good amount of time at MIT, here's another new co. it's spawned, Levant Power, I hadn't come across until recently.  The tech is still young, but if it can be proven out, it's going to be a boon for future (and maybe current gen) Army and Marines vehicles:
Senior Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates say they can produce up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers. The company that produces Humvees for the army, and is currently working on development of the next-generation version of the all-purpose vehicle, is interested enough to have loaned them a vehicle for testing purposes.
If a reader can ping Army TARDEC or its Fuel Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) folks, I'm sure they'd like to know about this. Perhaps they already do.

Photo of GenShock Courtesy of Zack Anderson

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New DNI has Resolve to Solve DOD Energy Security Issues

Retired Admiral and Annapolis grad Dennis Blair seems a perfect fit for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) role in the Obama administration.  With strong publicly espoused opinions about US dependence on foreign sourced fuel, and a robust base of  national security R&D experience as a recent President of the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), he's a great complement to Jim Jones, the new National Security Advisor. 

In a 2007 hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, he laid out the DOD's energy security problem succinctly:
Put simply:  the increasing U.S. dependence on oil imported from underdeveloped volatile regions of the world is putting a strain on our military forces and it is assigning them expensive missions for which they're really the wrong instrument of national power. 
Blair is not at all happy about our historical approach to energy security, and it appears he's psyched to be part of a team that may bring serious transformation. There's more on him here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Whither DOE?

One constant message I've heard in my travels as DOD Energy Blogger is that the Department of Energy (DOE), originally created during the Carter Administration in response to the energy crisis of that time, is ill structured (and therefore ill prepared) to play the new energy leadership role so many envision for it in our time of multiple energy related crises. Everyone praises the potential of the DOE labs, which sponsor more basic and applied scientific research than any other Federal agency. But the nuclear weapons and energy oversight tasks which the Department also owns leave it very little room to maneuver re: adding additional capabilities.

One source that's tracking the ongoing DOE debate in DC is an online publication EnergyWashington. As EW sees it:
Several former DOE officials have begun questioning whether DOE should be restructured and refocused on energy tasks at hand: “These critics suggest that DOE is now being asked to take on a massive new energy policy function – the Obama administration’s and Congress’ call for a green energy transformation of the U.S. economy – and predict that it cannot perform both this major new function and its nuclear weapons-related responsibilities, which take up two-thirds of DOE’s budget.”
You can find a summary of EnergyWashington's recent DOE transformation articles here, and if you want to go deeper and stay tuned all year, you can ask for subscription info here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another Type of Energy Insecurity

We all know oil supplies are finite and potentially at or beyond peak production. And we also know that geopolitical factors can have a big impact on US access to (and the price of) oil. But a year ago how many would have predicted that modern-day pirates would join the fray to add yet one more dimension to energy supply uncertainty. 

Once again, a DOD that likes to plan and equip for big battles has found itself in an asymmetric situation for which it seems ill equipped. While there are signs we're beginning to figure this problem out, here is another good reason to accelerate efforts to get off, to the greatest extent possible, the stuff that gave the pirates who hijacked the Sirius Star super tanker a multi million dollar pay day.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The NSC Powers Up and Across for Obama

The National Security Council (NSC) being stood up to advise President Obama is unlike any other in its scope and breadth. Under retired Marine General Jim Jones (covered previously on the DOD Energy Blog), the NSC is going to have representation from far outside DOD and intel, and will span domains that would not have met your father's definition of national security. This is an acknowledgement by Obama and Jones that the most pressing challenges facing the US in 2009 contain a mix of thoroughly inter-related factors including defense and diplomacy, climate and ecosystems, health, food, cyber and communications, and of course, energy. Here's a bit on Jones' thinking behind this change:
This ... will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. "The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful," he said.
The toughest energy security challenges facing DOD and the nation will only be solved with strong leadership and swift promulgation of plans and policies to all subordinate departments. So far, the Obama/Jones-built NSC looks like a formula for success. There's more detail here from the Washington Post; you'll want to read this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

M2E for Soldier Power

One company that can definitely lay claim to the "Wearable Power" category, but which was not allowed to compete in the recent Wearable competition is Motion to Energy (M2E) Power of Boise, Idaho. Why the disqualification? The competition forbid any power generated by the soliders themselves, and that's exactly what M2E does: harvest energy that otherwise would have been wasted. I'll let M2E speak for themselves about their special sauce:
M2E’s technology dramatically increases the amount of power that can be generated from kinetic energy. The power is produced by using motion-produced electromagnetic fields that are harvested, converted to electrical energy and stored for use in a variety of scalable applications. The application possibilities span handheld, mobile devices to larger power requirements, such as hybrid vehicles and power systems for industrial use. 
These folks got their start with some pioneering physics work done with DOE at the Idaho National Lab, and with a passel of generals on their military advisory board, they are sure to find the right connections in DOD. Imagine while on patrol in Afghanistan, your own motion is generating electricity for you and saving you from having to schlep additional pounds of batteries. That would make you pretty happy, wouldn't it?

Image: M2E Power logo 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lessons for DOD: Walmart Boosts Fleet Truck Efficiency by 25%

Wal-Mart's focus on energy efficiency and energy innovation is mentioned prominently in what continues to be my favorite DOD energy document, the DSB Energy Task Force Report on Energy published one year ago. Guess what? The same company that set ambitious energy efficiency goals several years ago is now meeting them. With this announcement, Wal-Mart signals it has reached the halfway point to its goal of a 50% energy reduction in its trucking fleet by 2015.  

Similar to the challenges facing the 4 Services, TRANSCOM and the other parts of DOD charged with moving men and materials, Wal-Mart's solutions are part technology and part process.

Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) played a big role in getting Wal-Mart this far this fast. RMI leads the way in much of the energy innovation going on today. And speaking of leadership, as goes Wal-Mart, so goes the rest of the rest of the trucking industry that has to keep up or move out. Let's hope DOD, in addition to being a great leader in many areas, is also a fast follower where it can leverage lessons learned by other leaders.

Photo: RMI

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fuel Cells Light Up Gear While Lightening Soldiers' Loads

Back in October I noted that fuel cells thumped the competition at the Wearable Power competition held at  Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, CA. Though it was not the winner, California-based UltraCell Corp. competed in and successfully completed the DOD’s $1 million Wearable Power Prize, where they were one of only five companies to finish the Prize. In fact, the UltraCell team chose to compete with an already proven design and didn't do custom mods to reduce weight. That decision meant they came in heavier than the winner, but it also meant theirs was the closest to a field-able product.

Heavy batteries are currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan to power everything from sensors to comm and computer gear and DOD knows it needs a light-weight alternative. Many soldiers hump 20-30 pounds worth of batteries alone. This is unacceptable. According to UltraCell, this technology weighs less than 3 pounds and offers a 70% weight savings for an average 72-hour mission in the field. DARPA, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) are all playing a role. Sometimes the best things come in small packages.

Photo: An XX25 fuel cell powering an iRobot robot courtesy of Ultracell

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Army Moves Out Strong in 2009 on Energy Policy

What makes this news stand out? Well for one thing, it's not about facilities; it's about weapon systems. Army Acquisition Exec Dean Popps just signed an important a new Army energy document ... a memo with a distribution list, as you'll see, that includes every Army senior in every significant org (at least I think so). And it's not just the address list, it's what it says that's amazing:
All new Army acquisition programs, to include new program starts and new increments, with end items that consume energy shall include the fully burdened cost of energy needed to operate the system in their total ownership cost analysis. This direction applies to all acquisition category level programs, including information systems.
Excellent. And to keep this post from going too long, I'll single out one more gem though there are many more. An objective listed under the heading "Energy Productivity" states:
Our goal is to reduce the risks associated with energy supply and demand while maintaining needed operational capabilities.
Not surprisingly, the Army is proud of what it is accomplishing and shows a lot of its work here. You can say what you want about how long it's taking energy strategy to be implemented in DOD, but this document, released to kick off the new year, has me very excited about what to expect next from the Army. OSD, USAF, USN ... you paying attention ?!?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reader Response on DOD Fuel Tail Vulnerability

When I started this blog last summer I decided I wanted to limit it to one voice: mine. Some readers have discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of individual posts with me via email and that's been great. But we're at the point now where the frequency and quality of the back-channel comments has me considering turning comments on as an experiment. Here's one worth sharing on yesterday's post re: fuel and logistics issues, base closure in Kyrgzstan and our Afghanistan operations:
We need to include the risk of our logistics tail to war gaming and campaign analysis per [the DSB Task Force on Energy reports] and should be doing everything we can to reduce the size of that tail (or at least make informed decisions relative to the capabilities of systems). Combine this with the likely closure of the Manas base and you have the reason why FBCF and the associated EEKPP are about capability, not merely "efficiency."
Bingo. Weighting energy considerations appropriately in all aspects of DOD planning is not mainly about saving money (though it does), or limiting carbon emissions (though it will), or reducing US/DOD's dependence on foreign and finite oil (it does that too), it's first and foremost about tilting the odds in our favor ... and keeping the success and safety of our Soldiers, Marines and Airmen front and center.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Be Concerned About Russia Week: Part II

Actually, I won't likely post on Russia for a bit after this. But a recent article in DefenseTech caught my attention as it relates to my day job in cyber security. When Putin, Medvedev & co. aren't turning off their natural gas pipelines or taking out journalists, they're stealthily unleashing cyber attacks on their former USSR neighbors. This time is was Kyrgzstan, home to one of the most important air strips in the world used by the DOD. Well, that was the case until maybe today. Loss of that base would add tremendous additional burdens on DOD fuel and other logistics requirements related to Afghanistan. There's lots more going on than here than offensive cyberwar, but it's clearly part of the overall package of threats Russia holds over its much weaker neighbors.

Back at home, the DHS classifies the US national grid and the large power generating facilities as critical national infrastructure. Considerations of energy security from a DOD and national perspective have to consider the vulnerability of our power generation and transmission systems to cyber attack. And while we talk about this, Russia sure is getting a lot of hands-on practice. Oh yeah, and China too (see: Titan Rain).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Putin's Energy Weapons

We've hit this topic many times before and we'll touch it again no doubt: from a DOD and US perspective, energy security is partly about becoming less reliant on foreign sources because energy can become a weapon used against us and its allies. When Putin ordered the natural gas flow through the Ukrainian pipelines cut off last month, it was about economics ... and a whole lot more. The might Russia used to project with its military arsenal is now conveyed with its control over some of the largest supplies of oil and gas in the world. On Putin and energy in WSJ last week:

"I would describe it as very much his personal project,” said Clifford G. Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and an expert in Russia’s energy policy. “It is the heart of what he has done from the very beginning.” Indeed, from his earliest days in power in 2000, Mr. Putin, who left the presidency in 2008 and became prime minister, decided natural resource exports and energy in particular would not only finance the country’s economic rebirth but also help restore Russia’s lost greatness after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Fine. But the logical response of countries held hostage by Russia's manipulation would be to wean themselves, as rapidly as possible, off the substance that binds and threatens them, right?
As they did two years ago after a similar supply disruption, European officials have promised in the wake of the Ukraine dispute to take steps to diversify the Continent’s sources of gas to end its reliance on Russia, which supplies nearly 30 percent of the total. European dependence is expected to grow as North Sea gas fields decline.
So while logic would dictate a brisk move away from Russian supplies, other factors will play a bigger role, and likely keep Europe and the former Soviet Union in Russia's energy grip for the foreseeable future. Lest we feel superior, however, very similar forces have been at work between OPEC and the US for decades. Only now are we beginning to move in the right direction. Let's move quickly.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Go for Air Force Coal-to-Liquid at Malmstrom

The Air Force is betting the house it can find non-oil forms of liquid fuel to power its planes, manned and unmanned. As you're probably well aware, over the past 18 months it has been busy certifying that the entire inventory is OK running on a mix of 50/50 JP8 and synthetic fuel derived from natgas. Having our planes be able to run on other other fuels is one thing, having enough of the alternate fuel to make a difference is quite another.

To that end, the Air Force had been trying to stand-up a plant to test the feasibility of turning coal into liquid fuel in high volume. Unfortunately, it appears that initiative is dead, at least for now. Here are the reasons the AF gave for why they decided to kill it, according to this Air Force Link article
  • Possible conflicts with the wing's mission, including degradation of security in the vicinity of weapons storage area; 
  • Interference with existing missile transportation operations; and,
  • Issues with explosive safety arcs and operational flight safety
What I'd like to know is: other than these issues, was the plant going to work? How much fuel was it going to make and how much would it have cost per gallon when all the costs of construction and operation were factored in? The reasons given for termination mask information on what the Air Force thought of the utility of this proposed facility. It's not a good sign.