Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Latest GAO Report Hits DOD Hard on Grid Reliance

Sometimes it seems like there's just too much on the DOD's plate:
  • having to simultaneously kill people and build trust with communities
  • with too many risks to track and mitigate, and 
  • too many jobs to be done by too few folks ...
  • in an increasingly constrained budgetary environment
  • and I'm not even going to mention EMP (woops)
Now comes GAO telling Congress and DOD that the Department is asleep at the wheel when it comes to plans and preparation for extended power outages in CONUS and overseas. Here's a couple of excerpts from the summary:
DOD’s most critical assets are vulnerable to disruptions in electrical power supplies, but DOD lacks sufficient information to determine the full extent of the risks and vulnerabilities these assets face. All 34 of these most critical assets require electricity continuously to support their military missions, and 31 of them rely on commercial power grids—which the Defense Science Board Task Force on DOD Energy Strategy has characterized as increasingly fragile and vulnerable—as their primary source of electricity.
The 10 Defense Critical Infrastructure Program vulnerability assessments we reviewed did not explicitly consider assets’ vulnerabilities to longer-term (i.e., of up to several weeks’ duration) electrical power disruptions on a mission-specific basis, as DOD has not developed explicit Defense Critical Infrastructure Program benchmarks for assessing electrical power vulnerabilities associated with longer-term electrical power disruptions.
Sounds to me like this necessary work could piggyback nicely with efforts to prepare for and take advantage of new and emerging Smart Grid and microgrid capabilities. Somebody on that?  Hope so.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fuel Efficient Future Fighters

As is increasingly the case, thanks to Ollie keeping his finger on the quickening pulse of energy innovation in DOD. Sometimes having separate services field overlapping or redundant capabilities is an organizational efficiency buzz kill. Other times, sibling rivalry drives them further/faster than they might otherwise go.

Here are recent announcements from the Navy on its ambitious F/A-18 Green Hornet biofuel fighter program and the Air Force looking at bringing ADVENT efficient jet engine technology to the F-35. Maybe they Army has something up its sleeve with helo's?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wall Street Journal Status Update on New Energy Technologies

Ten, twenty, thirty years ago you could hope farsighted folks would start investing substantial funds to more rapidly advance the economic viability of renewables, particularly solar. But it wasn't going to happen. You could have hoped (if you were that kind of person) that government would invest big bucks to find energy research. But you would have been disappointed.

Well, these are the new days, and while some fresh minds are working on building the next new iPhone app, thousands more at MIT and elsewhere have the pedal to the metal on nanotech solar and modified genetic biofuels and a million other things that could change the world.

This Wall Street Journal article gives you a snappy late 2009 update on five of them complete with nice illustrations, tells you where they stand today, describes the capabilities they might bring tomorrow, and states plainly that all of them have serious challenges they've yet to overcome. My favorite line from the article balances the good with the hard: "Scientists are attacking the problem from a host of angles—all of which are still problematic."

Here are the five, all of which could make a big difference in DOD, not to mention the rest of the nation:
  • Space based solar
  • Advanced car batteries
  • Utility storage
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Next generation biofuels
There is no question some or all of these technologies will be part of our future energy portfolio. The only questions are when, how much, and what else?

Illustration Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UAV Anxiety: Losing Touch with Distant Drones

Thanks to Peter Reed and Stephan Tremble for this. You'll recall how I drone on about the fuel demand implications of a global sky filled with DOD UAVs 24/7/365. Boring, right? Well, bet you hadn't thought of this energy-related risk (below) ... I certainly didn't !!!
During "lost link" episodes, when communication with the air crew is broken, the plane circles on a preset course and waits for direction. "We have to find it. It's like hide-and-seek," Dowd said. The week Gersten took command at Creech, a power surge hit the base and he lost contact with several Predators and Reapers over Afghanistan and Iraq. His crews told him this was nothing to worry about, and in fifteen minutes all the planes were back online. Two weeks later, another power surge hit Creech and he lost contact with more Predators and Reapers. Within a half hour, all were found. But systems so technology-dependent will be vulnerable to exploitation, whether through hacking or physical interruption of data -- shooting down a satellite, perhaps, along its round-the-world journey. And in increasingly wired war zones, everyone will be fighting for bandwidth.
Read the full article in Esquire ... quite interesting indeed.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Navy Shows Smart Grid Leadership

I recently had a chance to speak with Rear Admiral Phil Cullom, who I met at CNA's "Powering America's Defense" report release gathering earlier in the year.

RADM Phil Cullom runs N43, Fleet Readiness and Task Force Energy, works with (and brought into the discussion) RADM Mark Handley whose role is now Commander of 1NCD (1st Naval Construction Division).

Handley, who led the Navy Energy program way back in '96, reminded me that since 1985 up until just recently, the Navy has reduced energy demand at facilities over 30% by hitting the low hanging fruit. Having hit a bit of a wall, with a view to only much higher hanging fruit, Hadley said he views the Smart Grid has the way to take facilities energy demand reduction to the next level, primarily via usage info the Smart Grid will provide.

How'd the Navy go so far so fast in its Smart Grid thinking? Seems like they got a head start when in the year 2000 a San Diego energy price spike drove the local base to aggressively meter over the Web as a solution. Immediately visible where the sources of the highest demands and the facilities manages quickly adapted and dealt with "problem users." Problem solved and by the way, these actions had considerable ROI, the Admirals noted.

So dear reader with facilities responsibilities, I must ask, what are you waiting for?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 19, 2009

DOD Energy Blogger Letter to Editor at "The Hill" Re: DOD Cost of Fuel in Afghanistan

Long-time readers will note I've spent a fair amount of time on this blog saying the DOD doesn't properly value fuel in its systems requirements definition, force planning, acquisition processes, war gaming, etc. So it was more than a little ironic that I found myself yesterday writing to the influential DC newspaper "The Hill" arguing that they're telling lawmakers that the prices they quoted for fuel delivered to troops in Afghanistan is far too high.

But they printed an article that grossly distorted the facts, and since I know a thing or two about this topic, and since what we decide to do in Afghanistan is of paramount national interest, thought I had to chip in. No guarantee they'll respond; they haven't yet as far as I can tell. But just for the record, here's what I wrote the editors last night (18 OCT 2009):
Dear Sirs,
I politely request you consider publishing a clarification regarding last week's article, "$400 per gallon gas to drive debate over cost of war in Afghanistan." As someone who has been studying the DoD's use of energy at US bases as well as in war zones, the article's title, as well as its very first sentence, state and then reinforce a potentially damaging factual inaccuracy that could impact public policy decisions being made right now.
The $400 per gallon figure was recently cited by Marine Corps Commandant Conway when he said thecosts of transported fuel in Afghanistan can be "up to $400" per gallon. In most cases, the costs are well below that maximum. The DoD's own understanding of these costs is not nearly as conclusive as theauthor suggests. Here's how the Defense Science Board task force on energy put it on page 30 of their definitive 2008 report: "... delivered costs for fuel to range from a low of $4 per gallon for ships on the open ocean to $42 per gallon for in-flight refueling to several hundred dollars per gallon for combat forces and FOBs deep within a battlespace." In Afghanistan as in other areas remote from the United States, fuel costs are relatively low at large central bases. As you get closer to the tactical edge of operations, however, costs escalate substantially as military forces transport fuel and protect fuel in transit.
A second source of potential confusion in the article relates to a failure to properly define the DoD's still-new metric: the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF). Suffice it to say that the higher figures cited by General Conway and Army energy security program director Kevin Geiss include a long list of direct and indirect costs that go far beyond what readers will likely infer from the article (for more info on factors considered in FBCF analysis, see here).
However, while at its most precise, the FBCF can be understood as a range of possible costs, we may soon have better estimates for these numbers in Afghanistan. General Conway authorized an energy cost investigation team that recently returned from their mission in Afghanistan. As I understand it, the raw data they captured is being analyzed and will made available when complete.
For now, and especially during a period of intense debate over our future strategy in that country, I ask you to communicate to your very influential readers that the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel in Afghanistan is not $400 per gallon, not nearly. In my opinion, the inaccurate and alarmist article published last Thursday will do far more harm than good.
I thank you very much for your attention.
Andy Bochman

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Army Corps of Engineers’ Sustainability Conference Report

Sabot 6's Dan Nolan's out there and at it again. Looks like he was within 10 miles of my home territory in Boston and didn't even let me know ... he's definitely going to get it.  But for now, you're going to get it, straight from him and his recent experiences at an Army sustainability conference. Enjoy!
DN: I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote address at the US Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division (NAD) Sustainability Conference hosted by the New England District in scenic Concord, MA on 7 Oct 09. Traveling through the back roads under the canopy of fall splendor, I could see why this was land for which one would fight.The conference was attended by about 80 military engineers and managers, including members of the NAD HQ, folks from all six Districts (even Europe!), as well as the USACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center (Construction Engineering Research Laboratory) and U.S. Navy’s Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC). The purpose of the conference was to inform and educate military engineers about federal and DoD policy mandates (e.g., EPAct 2005, EISA 2007, the DoD Energy Security Strategic Plan, E.O. 13423 and the new Executive Order), meeting LEED (especially changes with LEED 3.0), the technologies on the market that will enable the USACE to achieve the various requirements, and case studies and best practices using those technologies. The interest and excitement was palpable in every session, and the discussion was spirited as engineers and managers compared notes and case studies between districts and Services on what the impact of the policies has been and will continue to be (especially the new Executive Order). Most importantly, the discussion demonstrated how to continue positioning the Corps to meet the new challenges of sustainable design, energy efficiency and renewable technologies. Seeing the momentum from the grass roots level of the USACE, echoing the themes presented by the CG, LTG Van Antwerp the day before at the AUSA Convention was very heartening. The guys and gals who have to make it happen are ready and the leadership is committed. I look for great things to follow from the Corps!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

UAV Revolution update

Fresh from a great lecture last night on exponential rates of improvement in information systems by futurist Ray Kurzweil, and only 2 days remove from a post on the revolution in the performance and use of UAVs, I get a note in my inbox this morning. It's a press release announcing a new small UAV endurance record leveraging a breakthrough in fuel cell technology. Navy's ONR is a partner. Draw your own conclusions about where this is leading.

Without further adieu, here you go:


DATELINE: SOUTHBOROUGH, MA; Protonex Technology Corporation (LSE: AIM: PTX and PTXU), a leading provider of advanced fuel cell power systems, today announced that the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), through a program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), has documented a flight endurance record on their small, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Ion Tiger, utilizing a highly advanced fuel cell system from Protonex. The Ion Tiger UAV flew for over 23 hours, setting an unofficial endurance record for fuel cell powered flight, driven by the latest generation of Protonex' UAV power system.

The 23+ hour duration of the Ion Tiger flight far surpasses the longest previous small UAV flight achieved using any technology. By incorporating the Protonex power system, the Ion Tiger was able to demonstrate seven times the endurance capability of advanced batteries. The Protonex UAV system that was used in the Ion Tiger demonstration is a high performance, ultralight proton exchange membrane [PEM] fuel cell system, coupling stack technology that can achieve 1,000 watts per kilogram with advanced balance of plant components.

With the successful completion of this major milestone, Protonex is planning to continue transitioning this advanced power source into small UAV products with specific payloads and mission requirements for both military and commercial applications. The endurance capabilities proven in this program were previously achievable only with larger scale, more costly UAVs. Protonex is now confident that new critical missions can be achieved by smaller, more cost-effective UAV platforms that incorporate its advanced power systems.

"This impressive 23-hour record flight milestone represents yet another successful collaboration with the NRL and is a culmination of all of our combined efforts to date," stated Dr. Paul Osenar, Chief Technology Officer, Protonex. "We share the ONR's vision towards bringing quiet electric propulsion and long endurance to today's small UAVs and to extend the capability to the warfighter."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't Forget the DSB and the Brittle Grid Problem Facing DOD Installations

Eighteen months have now passed since the public release of the DOD energy security bible, otherwise known as the Defense Science Board task force report on energy: "More Tooth, Less Tail"

I submit this post now, following recent energy conferences by the Army and Marines and with a Navy conference underway, to remind readers of how far we have to go with facilities vis a vis the brittle grid problem called out by the task force. Meeting energy efficiency and sustainability mandates is one thing; providing true mission assurance by reducing or eliminating bases' near total reliance on their local electric utilities is quite another. From page 54 on "Managing Risks to Installations":
For various reasons, the grid has far less margin today than in earlier years between capacity and demand. The level of spare parts kept in inventory has declined, and spare parts are often co-located with their operational counterparts putting both at risk from a single act. In some cases, industrial capacity to produce critical spares is extremely limited, available only from overseas sources and very slow and difficult to transport due to physical size.

In many cases, installations have not distinguished between critical and non-critical loads when configuring backup power systems, leaving critical missions competing with non-essential loads for power. The Task Force finds that separating critical from noncritical loads is an important first step toward improving the resilience of critical missions using existing backup sources in the event of commercial power outage. The confluence of these trends, namely increased critical load demand, decreased resilience of commercial power, inadequacy of backup generators, and lack of transformer spares in sufficient numbers to enable quick repair, create an unacceptably high risk to our national security from a long-term interruption of commercial power.
Energy efficiency is an essential demand reduction component and has to continue to be pursued relentlessly. But bringing true microgrid islanding capabilities and mass storage to each DOD facility ... that's the true challenge of the next few years. Let's get on it.

Next post will be on a Marine Corps microgrid pilot at Twentynine Palms.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Insulation Tech makes a Better Winter Jacket...May One Day Reduce DOD Fuel Consumption

Got to speak with a very interesting new company called Klymit recently, and at first I wasn't sure their technology, which has potential to help keep soldiers warmer and lighter, was applicable to DOD from an energy point of view. When you visit Klymit's site you'll be impressed. Their disruptive approach to insulation: user adjustable, noble gas-enabled insulation, made me think this was something Natick Soldier Systems might be interested in to possibly lighten the ridiculously heavy loads carried by today's troops. Along those lines, I was informed Klymit is working with industry consultant Level 4 Group to approach Natick and DOD on a few fronts.

One of those fronts, and where the big potential win for DOD on the energy front is, is in applying Klymit's insulation technology to tents. Here are a few of the advantages Klymit tents might have over the current state of the art, energy saving, spray foam tents:
  • Klymit fabric rolls up for transport or storage - soldier deployable and "Marine proof" - no contractors
  • High R values relative to weight/space constraints compared to foam and other conventional insulation
  • Fully re-useable - spray foam tents are a one time deal with foam-waste disposal challenges post use
  • Klymit insulation in harsh applications has a potential life span of up to several years

This is early stage stuff but Klymit is currently in talks with DOD tent and structure orgs and they're worth keeping an eye on. By they way, there's more Klymit coverage at my alma mater site: Discovery Tech: Sustainable.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Economist and Tom Barnett on UAV Revolution

Nice piece in the Economist on past, present and likely future of UAVs or "drones". Pace of innovation and energy-related technological advance reminds me of the 1980's PC era:
Small drones ... with electric motors are quiet enough for low-altitude spying. But batteries and fuel cells have only recently become light enough to open up a large market. A fuel cell developed by AMI Adaptive Materials, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, exemplifies the progress made. Three years ago AMI sold a 25-watt fuel cell weighing two kilograms. Today its fuel cell is 25% lighter and provides eight times as much power. This won AMI a $500,000 prize from the Department of Defence. Its fuel cells, costing about $12,000 each, now propel small drones.
And here are Barnett's take-aways:
  • No personnel lost and drones deliver great results at about 1/20th the cost of jets
  • Benefit is the loitering capacity ("persistent stare" means yo can find needles in haystacks because you can watch them being built) yielding real-time operational intell
  • In 2003, the big UAVs logged 35k hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year the number was 800,000 hours. That total doesn't even include all the new, super-small robotic ones that guys just launch by throwing them in the air; the U.S. military has something like 5,000 such units. That's a revolution, my friends
And his prediction: "the big UAVs are getting up in the tens of millions of dollars per unit, but the smaller ones stay in the tens of thousands of dollars. Guess which ones will win out over time?"
For me, UAVs and their land-based and under-sea autonomous and semi-autonomous cousins have got to be one of the most exciting product families to work on in a long time. And the implications of their arrival and eventual ubiquity are, for DOD energy demand planners, presently unfathomable. Eyes wide open on this space.

Photo: Wikimedia

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Marines Lead DOD on Energy

Another great dispatch just in from roving DEB reporter Dan Nolan of Sabot 6:
On 1 Oct 2009 I meet the new head of the United States Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office, General James Conway, who is also the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps. A few weeks prior I wrote about the USMC Energy Summit where General Conway announced that he would form an energy office and “before the end of the month, deploy a team to Afghanistan” to assess energy use at forward operating bases.
My thought at the time was, “there is no way they can assemble, prepare and deploy a team in that amount of time”. Nevertheless, I landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan on 3 September 2009 as part of the 6-six-man Marine Energy Assessment Team. Amazing what a little leadership can do. The highlight of the visits to the various camps, combat outpost and patrol bases (other than the odd rocket attack) was getting to meet the magnificent men and women of today’s Corps. America has nothing to fear with these folks on the front line.
Each service now has an energy office, but only the Marine Corps office is led by a uniformed officer. The leadership positions at DOD, the Army and Air Force are unfilled at this time. DOD related energy conferences continue. The same briefings detailing the same challenges are given over and over again. We can all look to the USMC for true leadership in DOD in relieving our unquenchable thirst for oil.
There'll be more detail coming from Dan on this. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Barnett on Yergin on China/US Energy Competition

Actually, Tom Barnett doesn't say much here besides endorsing Daniel Yergin's take. But his finding and highlighting these nuggets of energy wisdom is of great value: see here. Take away is that there's little to fear in the contention for fossil fuels (namely oil) from the world's great and rising powers as our economies are so interdependent.

What concerns me (and others) more is China's tremendous push on renewable technologies. It's not a bad thing at all, globally speaking. But if it leaves the US in the dust, unable to capitalize on renewables innovation and the huge global market for clean energy products, that would signal a major lost opportunity for us. Let's make sure we win the competitions that matter most, and not fret over those that don't.

Photo: NY Times

Navy Energy Conference Update - Speakers

I previously announced this conference here but wanted to provide attendees and potential attendees a link to the recently published speakers list and detailed agenda. Commencing October 14th, it includes the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Gary Roughhead (bio here) as well as many other senior leaders.

Beginning with tracks on energy security and energy efficiency is a good sign, but it'll have its work cut out for it to be as strong and focused an event as was the Marines' one-day energy conference back on August 13th.

It's hard to discern how much time will be alloted for operational energy issues vs. facilities, and it also appears that the second day is entirely devoted to environmental issues. There's an attempt at Web 2.0 community building via a forum set up for the Forum.  However, so far, many have joined but few have spoken. Navy energy efforts are looking better and better lately, but still want to see them turn up the volume even more.

Photo: Navy Times

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

German Army to New German Wind Turbines: "Halt!"

A rock to the left and a hard place to the right: that's where the Germany finds itself on this issue. Like the rest of Europe, Germany needs to do everything it can to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, see here, here, here and here.

To that end, Germany has deployed more wind power than any other country on Earth and has plans to bring much more on line shortly.

But there's a catch of course. A debate is on over how much or how little fields full of large spinning composite blades impair radar's ability to do its job. Numerous links for this, here's one for you.

I'm not the Bundeswehr (thank goodness), but I know which way I'd go on this one. Post Cold War, I'd tune my radar policy and technology to adapt to a turbine filled world. GasProm's (Putin's) energy blackmail is a much more proximate threat to Germany's well being than a terrorist tank battalion stealthily slaloming through the windmills.

Photo of F-16 Radar:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Future Aircraft Technology: Reviewed, Considered, Critiqued

Thanks to Ollie for pointing this one out. Personally, I'm less concerned about the aviation industry's ability to comply with emissions targets, and more interested in how evolving policy and technology will impact how the Air Force does its job. We've talked about blended wing body and other future concepts here before. This recent article in MIT's Technology Review reminds us of the incremental nature (and limitations) of many of the technologies now on the table.
With these limitations in mind, by 2020, new technologies could make aircraft about 20 percent to 35 percent more efficient, on average, than planes today. Fuselage coatings and adjustable wings, among other things, could reduce drag. Engines that run hotter and at higher pressures would use less fuel, as would engines that use gears to optimize the speeds of different parts of a turbine, and open-rotor designs that resemble and have some of the efficiency advantages of turboprops.
And they're not even beginning to address potentially massive new fuel burdens from ubiquitous and perpetual UAV deployments. We better hope there's a breakthrough in either Star Trek transporter technology or Harry Potter flue powder, because evolving-but-traditional jet planes simply aren't keeping up with the future.

Image: Gizmodo

Thursday, October 1, 2009

As Pledged: Two Smart Grid Security Posts from GridWeek

Folks working energy strategy and energy security at OSD and in the Services are getting earful these days about how the Smart Grid (and its smaller cousin, the microgrid) are going to make it easier to integrate renewables into their facilities energy portfolios and help solve the brittle grid to boot.

Last week a colleague of mine and I were at the GridWeek conference in DC, one of the more prominent of the many dozens of Smart Grid-related conferences happening every year and I said we'd share some findings here on the DOD Energy Blog. Well, without further excess verbosity, here they are, visiting from a sister blog, with excerpts:
1) GridWeek Smart Grid Startups and Security
... the great Smart Grid project could fail, or fail to thrive, largely based on its ability to get security reasonably right, and because adoption will be partially determined by industry and public perception of its safety. The finding that young Smart Grid companies, as represented here, have not prioritized security action, versus titling and responsibility, is a concern.
2) Smart Grid Startups and Security: Round 2 from GridWeek
Hyperbole aside, we all know that the Smart Grid is an area of growing and inevitable security risk. If I'm a utility, and as such am a prospective new customer for a startup, and I'm held accountable to the highest security standards by those who regulate me, I'm going to be damned sure that I put prospective vendors through the ringer before bringing their technology in house. And if I'm a startup, while having a qualified security person on my staff is no silver bullet, our guess is they'll be more than worth their salary as the regulators press their security cases and the utilities/customers get more and more savvy about risk.
By the way, as far as I was able to discern, I only found one rep each from DLA and DHS in attendance, with a handful from Lockheed, Northrop and Raytheon. Will be interesting to learn just how many in the Department are tasked with monitoring which way (and how hard) the Smart Grid winds are blowing, and how to position the DOD ship for maximum advantage.

BAE and other Integrators Gearing up to Crank out Microgrids

I'll attempt follow-on posts with more more details on individual implementations, but for now here's news of a batch of integrators starting a bunch of microgrid projects. And Jeff St. John at Greentechmedia noting the applicability to DOD facilities:
BAE, for its part, joins fellow defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing that are entering the smart grid space, though those companies have primarily cast themselves as system integrators and providers of security for smart grid deployments. Still, microgrid projects seem to be a natural for military contractors, since military bases could be seen as one of the "critical assets" that need to keep the power on in case of natural disruption or intentional attack.
Here's the whole thing.