Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cutting Edge Energy Tech from Navy and NASA

The DOD Energy Blogger is about to take a 5-day siesta in Mexico, on una playa sin las computadoras. But he doesn't want to leave you empty handed during his absence, so here are a few items that may be of interest to the more geeky among you. Note: these technologies are in the early to VERY EARLY stages of development. But all could have a role in a future, energy savvy DOD that uses energy smarts to save ... and win.
Shape changing rotor blades to make helicopters more efficient, quieter, better, by NASA.

Fuel cell powered UAVs developed by the Naval Research Labs (NRL) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

And for the grand finale, Cold Fusion 2.0 via Navy Space and Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego. Unlike Cold Fusion 1.0, which no one could replicate and ultimately became a punch line, this breakthrough is holding up in labs around the world.
Be back soon. Adios.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Potential Coal to Liquids (CTL) Game Changer?

The DOD consumes 75% of the energy used by the Federal government, and the Air Force is by far the largest consumer of energy in the DOD.  Hence, the Air Force and DARPA have been searching for alternatives to jet fuel derived from oil for several years and the work continues. Among the challengers to oil are fuels derived from oil's biomass precursors like foliage, wood, food waste, sugar cane, switch grass, algae, etc. Nature would eventually turn these things into oil for free, as long as we could wait a couple hundred of million years. However, we don't have quite that much time.

 The Air Force has turned its attention to making fuel from other fossil forms, including natural gas and coal, and almost (but not quite) constructed a CTL fuel facility at Malmstrom AFB (covered here). 

The problems with CTL processes to date are several, and include price and the amount of pollution (including CO2) created by the process, even before the fuel is burned. This Wired magazine article describes a breakthrough made by Professor Ben Glasser in Johannesburg, South Africa. Here's the short take:
The traditional process uses carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen as the ingredients in the molecular soup that gets turned into hydrocarbons. The process uses just CO2 and hydrogen. Glasser's new production method allows them to set a lower limit on the amount of energy that would be needed to transform solid coal into fuel. The very best possible CTL process would require 350 megawatts of input to make 80,000 gallons of fuel; the current process uses more than 1,000 megawatts.

Glasser's work may make CTL more cost competitive with regular oil ... and thereby make things harder on biomass-based fuels from an economic point of view.  But it's important to keep things in perspective. Whenever renewable energy or synthetic fuels come up, oil industry types like to keep things real by invoking the S word. S stands for Scale. The Air Force uses 2.5 billion gallons of jet fuel per year, and that's only 10% of US yearly jet fuel use. You do the math.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Playing with Power in MOD Hybrid Tactical Vehicles

The DOD Energy Blog has covered on board energy systems work by the US Army's RDECOM TARDEC unit before. Now it appears a sibling org in the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) is pushing British ground vehicles' energy systems in a similar manner. Both the DOD and the MOD are trying to support an ever increasing bank of electronic gear using higher voltage systems, regenerative breaking and other hybrid approaches to achieve better fuel economy.

Here's the deal:
Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) and Protected Patrol Vehicles (PPVs) are already power-hungry machines with advanced computer systems and communication equipment, but future battlefield vehicles will be equipped with even more electronics, such as situational-awareness technology, sensors and vehicle cooling systems. All of this will place an increasing burden on existing 28V generating systems.
If you'll allow a comparison, it seems like this development is following the form of highway expansion projects. That is, when you build more lanes to reduce traffic congestion, you often get more cars to fill in the extra lanes and end up back at square one. We may soon have vehicles that can squeeze more work out of a gallon of fuel, and it may be that the savings will not be captured as reduced fuel demand, but rather as support for more powerful and more numerous computers, communications devices and sensors. 

Food for thought: the energy efficiency KPP could be used in more ways than one in systems acquisition.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Things They Carry

Even though this article doesn't specifically call out batteries, we know from discussions with Army Soldier Systems in Natick, MA, as well as from the Wearable Power competition conducted last year, that the proliferation of mobile devices is weighing soldiers and Marines down past the breaking point. This article provides a very visceral sense of just how much they're humping:
Currently, the lightest load carried, the "fighting load" for situations where the troops were sneaking up on the enemy and might be involved in hand-to-hand combat, is 63 pounds. The "approach march load," for when infantry were moving up to a position where they would shed some weight to achieve their "fighting load", is 101 pounds. The heaviest load, 132 pounds, was the emergency approach march load, where troops had to move through terrain too difficult for vehicles. 
Could you carry that much for 10 minutes in your back yard? What about in the desert heat? How about for 2 hours up and down hills? Here's what this means for troops in Afghanistan in particular:
In Afghanistan, the problem is made worse by the high altitudes (up to 5,000 meters) the troops often operate at. The researchers found that in Afghanistan, even though the infantry were in excellent physical shape, troops would sweat nearly 20 ounces of fluid an hour while marching at high altitudes in bright sunlight in moderate temperatures. That meant more weight, in water, had to be found to keep these guys going.
I have to admit, there've been times I felt that the smaller power challenges weren't as important as the larger systems ones. I no longer feel that way. Not in the least.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Calling My Russian Counterpart on Military Energy

It appears Russia will soon be embarking on a major rehab of its defense forces. I did some googling to see if there was some awareness that fuel efficiency or demand reduction could advantages in new systems, but couldn't get anything.

Maybe it's a language translation problem that's stymieing the searches. Or maybe Russia, flush with its own abundant oil and natural gas reserves, hasn't thought about it yet. In the US, while we have a long way to go to bring energy strategy fully into the fold at the Department, there are plenty of signs (quite visible online) we're doing it. For one thing, we have a slot that's going to be filled (any day now) for an OSD Director of Operational Energy. And not only that, we've got a thing called the DOD Energy Blog. We're showing our hand. 

So the question is: Is Russia hiding their hand? Or do they even have one? I'd be happy to get a response.

Photo of Russian Tiger vehicle: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smart Grid Vulnerabilities Might Make us Nostalgic for the Dumb Grid

Last week CNN raised an important and very timely point about the upcoming version 2.0 electric grid: that it may be too easy for bad guys to hack into, take out big parts of it, or otherwise manipulate its behavior.

Maybe the analogy isn't entirely apt (I'm still learning), but let's give it a shot. The US telecommunications industry transformed its infrastructure over the past several decades by replacing mechanical switches with modern computer networking equipment over fiber optic lines. I don't know about you, but cell coverage notwithstanding, my mobile phone, VOIP office phones and home landlines are reliable as I need them to be. The telcos appear to have secured their systems well, and/or have made them resilient and resistant to attack using redundancy and self-healing methods.

Drawing lessons from that highly succesful conversion, US regulators and the power industry are seeking ways to improve the reliability, efficiency and flexibility of the current electric genatration, transmission and consumption system, which is basically unchanged from what was in place nearly a century ago.

However as they do this, they need to be mindful that to be effective, security cannot be bolted on after system is deployed, but rather has to be a fundamental objective of the initial design. If they neglect security up front or get it wrong:
Experts said that once in the system, a hacker could gain control of thousands, even millions, of meters and shut them off simultaneously. A hacker also might be able to dramatically increase or decrease the demand for power, disrupting the load balance on the local power grid and causing a blackout. These experts said such a localized power outage would cascade to other parts of the grid, expanding the blackout. No one knows how big it could get.
Absent solid security from the get go, as the title of this post suggests, DOD and the rest of the nation may rue the day when we tried to gain advantages over our current brittle but generally available grid by overlaying internet technologies on a massively complex critical infrastructure system that has life and death consequences for many of its users.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mainstream Mag Nixes Navy Re: Energy

US News & World Report just did an article on DOD Energy that begins by pointing to my favorite doc, the DSB Task Force on Energy 2008 report: 
It was a blunt message that came a little more than a year ago from an influential Pentagon task force. Charged with looking into the strategy for saving energy, the Defense Science Board concluded that the DOD didn't seem to have one. The report further noted that the department was rather too nonchalant about its "unnecessarily high, and growing" fuel use.
Can't fault that for a start. But then the magazine proceeds to cite numerous energy demand reduction actions of the Army and Air Force while ignoring the Navy. The author claims, incorrectly, that the Air Force and Army's energy use are greater than the Navy's ... and well, unless I'm very much mistaken, they're wrong (USAF uses 57%, USN 34% and USA 9% of the DOD total). And while we're at it, let's zoom in a little closer with a breakdown on Navy fuel use in 2008:


Shore = 25%
Sea = 75%


Renewable = 1%
Nuclear = 16%
Electricity, Nat gas & other = 26%
Petroleum = 57%

No doubt about it: the Navy has a long way to go from organizational and energy strategy perspectives. Maybe much further than the other services. But a follow-up post will describe some of the Navy's recent demand reduction actions and maybe get it some media respect re: energy.

Super Hornet launch photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Field Notes from ACORE's RETECH

This dispatch just in from Retired Army O-6 and Sabot 6 CEO Dan Nolan:

I just returned from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) sponsored Renewable Energy Technology Conference and Exhibition (RETECH) in Las Vegas (SINCITY).  ACORE is an organization of member companies and institutions dedicated to moving renewable energy into the mainstream of America’s economy, ensuring the success of the renewable energy industry while helping to build a sustainable and independent energy future for the nation.  RETECH 2009 built on the outcomes of WIREC 2008, highlighting the top companies and thought leaders in the renewable energy industry. It was a superb conference with excellent speakers and a dazzling array of hardware and services. The atmosphere was downright bubbly with anticipation of the new Administration's focus on Energy. Over two hundred Government and Industry leaders shared their insights, strategies, and new products in the RETECH Business Conference and Trade Show, which spanned all renewable technologies and all aspects of the field.

In one session in particular the challenges for DOD were laid out by presenters such as GEN (R) Wes Clark and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Jim Woolsey.  As interesting as their presentation was, the final speaker on that panel really grabbed my attention. He was not on the agenda and had apparently been added to replace an absent speaker. He talked about harnessing one of the great untapped energy sources in this Nation for the express purpose of strengthening our security, our economy and the values of hard work, determination and honor. That energy is renewable, proven and inexhaustible.  It is the energy provided by our military veterans and it is being tapped by Veterans Green Jobs.  

After the presentation, I sat down with the Executive Director, Brett KenCairns to discuss the program. As their website describes it: 

Veterans Green Jobs provides exemplary green jobs education and career development opportunities for military veterans, empowering and supporting them to lead America’s transition to energy independence, ecological restoration, community renewal, and economic prosperity.

The intent is to provide training and education to veterans and bring them into the Green workforce. The concept is new and the first graduates of the Veterans Green Jobs Academy will graduate and deploy in June of this year.  I encourage all employers to visit the website and tap into this resource. If you want a workforce that emulates the values that have made our military one of the most esteemed institutions in the world, Veterans Green Jobs can help you achieve that goal. This program focuses on getting the best that America offers into the industry that has the potential to return us to the economic prominence we once enjoyed and can again. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Energy Cold War

Michael G. Frodl writing in this month's National Defense Magazine calls it what it is: an "Energy Cold War" that crosses many fronts. His is a fairly comprehensive listing of the many battlefields (some hot, some not) where energy resources are being contested today. One of them is no surprise:
Fuel supplies intended for U.S. troops in Afghanistan ... are creating a security risk. More than 90 percent of the fuel and materiel destined to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan go through Pakistan. The Taliban and other Islamist forces in Pakistan have been attacking supply convoys in transit. 
IMHO, whether by land, sea or air, the opportunities for disrupting fuel supply lines are always greater than or equal to the number of supply lines. Someday maybe Star Trek-like transporter tech will allow us to bypass these modes and we'll have moved on to dilithium crystals. You don't even want to ask what that supply route looks like!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Energy Industry Shooting Self in Foot

You may recall a phrase that came out of the Republican convention last year, "Drill, Baby, Drill"? It referred to some folks' desire to access more of the fossil resources in Alaska and US waters. Well, despite the cheers it generated at the time, the oil business pays far more attention to markets than it does to politics and politicians.  

This NY Times article calls out the hardships facing oil and gas companies (and their workers) as the economics $45/barrel oil drives the number of rigs in operation way down. As almost everyone can imagine, the price of oil will go way up again ... in fact it already has already climbed $10 since hitting $35 in February. But as hedge fund director Adam J. Robinson says:
Inevitably, the [oil] market doesn't react; it overreacts and shoots itself in the foot.
No one (and I mean NO ONE) can predict the price of oil, but shutting down US capability at this point guarantees that we won't be ready to ramp up quickly if/when economies, and the global demand for oil, recover.

“Inevitably, the market doesn’t react; it overreacts and shoots itself in the foot,” said Adam J. Robinson, director of commodities at Armored Wolf, a California hedge fund.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Can You Imagine a 500 MW Solar Array, DOD? The Army Can, in Califormia

Heard about this grand solar thermal effort from a friend in the business today who was in the Mojave at Fort Irwin recently. What he relayed was a California desert version of New England's own beleaguered Cape Wind project ... a project with vision and scale in spades, but with regulators pledging a 6 - 7+ year approval process. 

Jeez. Maybe Arnold can help them cut through the red tape and get this sucker built for the Army in our lifetime.

Photo: Nevada Solar One

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Energy Security Wars: Grids vs. Hackers

According to this Washington Post article, the grid doesn't always win, especially in some ambiguous foreign countries. Tom Donahue, the CIA's top cyber security analyst, made some news when he disclosed that cyber attackers have breached the electrical systems of multiple countries and have gone as far as powering down entire cities when their demands weren't met.

Of course, it's not business as usual for the CIA to speak out so publicly:
The CIA wouldn't have changed its policy on disclosure if it wasn't important. Donahue wouldn't have said it publicly if he didn't think the threat was very large and that companies needed to fix things right now.
But it's not just that hackers are getting more organized and more powerful. Grid breaches are occurring because new IT and communications technologies are making life easier for operators ... and at the same time, more dangerous for customers.  According to security specialist Ralph Logan:
In the past, if they wanted to go out and read a gauge on a gas well, for example, they would have to send a technician in his vehicle; he would drive 100 miles and physically read the gauge and get back in his truck. Now they can read it from headquarters. But it allows attackers a gateway into the system.
All I can say is get ready for the Smart Grid, DOD. I'd recommend more diesel generators on the base ... and lots of candles in the home.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sunday, March 8, 2009

DDR&E HASC Testimony March 3, 2009

Not much progress to report I'm afraid. Mr. Shaffer's defense of DOD energy activities made before the House Armed Services (HASC) committee on readiness, in response to the just released, highly critical GAO report on energy efficiency (and the lack thereof) at forward operating bases, was a rehash of presentations given over the past year. Many technology-based initiatives are cited, including the oft (read: over) used reference to spray foam insulation of tents.

But most bothersome is the clear lack of progress on energy processes and metrics. The energy efficiency KPP has been up in the air for almost a decade, and now in 2009 it is announced that a study will soon commence: 
OUSD(AT&L) and the Joint Staff will soon embark on developing a methodology for implementing the Energy Efficiency key performance parameter (KPP), established in 2007. The study will help inform us of when to apply this energy-related KPP, and how to determine what the metrics should be for a given platform or system type.
And the next item updates the status of a decision made in 2006 to use the JLTV program (and two others) to pilot energy metrics practices.  Three years later here's where we are:
The OUSD (AT&L), the Army, and the Marine Corps are in the very early discussions about how best to set energy “productivity” metrics for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program. We expect this to be addressed in the program’s study plan prior to the next milestone decision, currently scheduled for 2011.
"Very early discussions."  This is not change we can believe in.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is Fuel Price Yo-Yo Broken?

I've posted on the yo-yo before. Basically it was a simple peak oil-based supply and demand system that had some logic to it. Speculation aside, it helped explain how and why oil was rising towards $150 last summer, and to a lesser extent why it began to fall off from its high of $147. But when demand started cratering in the fall, though the y0-yo effect would have predicted it, it had little to do with the high price of oil. The drop in prices turned out to be connected more closely with the sharp global economic downturn that became visible to the mainstream in 4Q08, and that signalled an almost unprecedented drop in demand. 6 months in, and we're seeing the next major snap of yo-yo take shape.  The WSJ reports that there are:  
mounting signs that the economic crisis and lower oil prices are shuttering projects around the world. OPEC countries—which meet next week to consider another output cut—have voluntarily slashed production by around three million barrels a day since last fall.  But the big and lasting cuts are coming in non-OPEC countries, where companies are postponing or canceling projects in droves. Bernstein Research said this week that non-OPEC oil production could fall by 2.5 million barrels/day over the next year.

A drop that steep,  analysts say, would more than make up for the steep fall in global oil demand. PFC Energy said in a report this week that it expects non-OPEC supply to continue to droop next year, losing an additional 460,000 barrels a day. Oil gurus at Barclays Capital predict that the fall in demand will become “less precipitous in coming months, while the supply-side contraction starts to bite and the impact spreads out from the physical markets.” Translation: Higher prices.
This time it's not rising demand that's looming (though many wish it were); it's falling supply that's going to drive the price up. I see a future yo-yo post on a reaction to higher prices in the form of more oil development. How it plays out timing-wise vis-a-vis a global economic recovery is the real wild card.

Photo of ancient Yo-Yo player: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Honeywell Performs for DOD Energy Savings

Long before talks of energy stimulus began echoing down Pentagon halls, Honeywell engineers were bringing energy savings technologies to the DOD en masse. The company recently announced the award of an Energy Savings Performance contract (ESPC) with the Army Corps of Engineers to continue doing for the Army what it's been doing for the other services:

Honeywell has ... implemented energy conservation measures for the Air Force and Navy. Combined, the company's DOD work will provide around $540 million in guaranteed savings. Typical improvements include replacing and upgrading heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) equipment, installing centralized building automation systems, replacing outdated fixtures with energy-efficient lighting, tightening building envelopes through new windows and doors, and upgrading electrical systems. Renewable energy technology like solar panels and biomass boilers is frequently employed as well.

In case you can't tell, that's not high tech stuff; that's low hanging fruit by the bushel. And it pays for itself, guaranteed. Bravo!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Energy Security a Major Concern for China as Well

And you thought Energy Security was only something that keeps certain US officials up at night? The good news and the bad news is: we are not alone. Europe is increasingly being squeezed by Russia who, through the pseudo company Gazprom, can turn off the lights and heat in many major cities at (almost) a moment's notice. And now you can add China, with its formerly rapidly expanding and very energy intensive economy to the club:
Chinese security analysts fear that oil import dependency is a potential pressure point that could be exploited by future adversaries of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Approximately 80 percent of China’s 3.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in crude oil imports passes through the Straits of Malacca. Such funneling could facilitate interdiction of China’s oil lifeline in times of crisis.
In "No Oil for the Lamps of China?" in the Naval Warfare College Review, Gabriel Collins and William Murray make it clear that China has ample cause to be concerned about keeping the oil routes open. Unlike the US, its ability to defend those lanes is far from mature. The paper also gets pretty detailed about how to perform an energy blockade of China, and what China's most likely responses would be. Very interesting reading about energy as an offensive and a defensive weapon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

DOD and USA Need to Get Smart (Grid)

At the intersection of energy security and cyber security lies the Smart Grid. Why all the bother; you might say: "What's the matter with the current grid? Everything's been just fine where I live."

Well here are a few facts for you:
  • The DOE reports that in 2009 the average age of a substation transformer on the U.S. power grid is 42 years -- two years more than their expected life span. 
  • They also observe that "If Alexander Graham Bell were somehow transported to the 21st century, he would not begin to recognize  the components of modern telephony – cell phones, texting, cell towers, PDAs, etc. – while Thomas Edison, one of the grid’s key early architects, would be totally familiar with the grid." Jeez.
And finally, this is the kicker for me: the DSB Energy Task Force 2008 report stated: 
Military installations are almost completely dependent on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical military and Homeland defense missions at an unacceptable risk of extended outage.
Sounds to me like we're long past due for a better approach and infrastructure. For more see this nicely designed, if somewhat fluffy, DOE introduction to the Smart Grid.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reader response to "DOD Overstimulated"

This just in from KTA on last Friday's stimulus post; it's a good one:
The author here is absolutely correct: there is a tremendously ironic possibility that the energy efficiency money is going to be frittered away in the most inefficient manner. However, that doesn't HAVE to be the case. Yes, the money is directed to the services and, as such, each service will make it's own expenditure decisions. This is going to increase the number of individuals who have their own agenda and pet projects. This will lead to  decentralized and uncoordinated efforts that will not have the power of synergy.  However, there are BIG projects, that can be undertaken service-wide, or, with SecDef guidance, DoD wide, which could yield tremendous efficiency gains.  They are not sexy and they are not likely to be on any base/post/garrison commander's wish list of projects.  But undertaking a coordinated, demand reduction program would create significant and measurable gains in energy efficiency and have the added effect of short payback periods.

Maybe a DoD-wide effort to retro-fit every appropriate ceiling/roof/attic with closed cell spray polyurethane foam isn't going to excite anyone. Maybe changing lighting and windows makes us all yawn.  And maybe doing so would anger every commander whose pet-project would not get funded. But significant efficiencies can be gained by making a bold decision at the outset. 

Choose to the right thing even if it's unpopular. The benefits are there for the taking. Such an action would be consistent with the appropriation and avoid the delay that will come in attempting to be responsive to the many and varied voices crying out for congressional dollars. This decision really isn't that hard. But it would require bold, decisive, strong leadership, whether from Secretary Gates or Secretaries Winter, Donley and Green.