Thursday, April 30, 2009

Navy ID's Trouble with Grid Reliance

A recent Navy IG report on facilities energy security took a surprising twist ... surprising to the IG, that is:
The report was commissioned to recommend a privatization strategy that would allow the U.S. Navy to “get out of the energy business” by selling its substantial network of power-generation facilities to firms in the private sector.  Ironically, the principal conclusion the IG reached was that privatization would be a disaster and that the whole policy supporting privatization erroneously presumed that the private sector’s management of the power sector was superior to the public sector. 
Readers of this blog should be less surprised.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Journal of Energy Security's Anti-Piracy Drill Down

While I noted the adverse energy security impacts of the recent bout of piracy in a February post here, this article from the Journal of Energy Security, on the same subject, got my attention for its high level of scholarship and analysis. The overview of the different anti-pirate technologies being considered, especially the different laser varieties and the unmanned surface vessels (USVs), is particularly interesting.

Until recently, large scale piracy on the high seas (vs. piracy in the digital world) seemed highly improbable. And yet its occurrence is having a big impact on shipping companies, their customers, and many of the world's navies. Piracy hit close to home for me when a friend in the NATO bureau at US State Department headquarters was recently reassigned to focus full time on coordinating anti-piracy procedures and policies with our allies.

Map: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fuel Maker Start-Up Making Strides

Re: my depressing previous post on the DOD's as yet unsuccessful attempt to make a fuels market via vehicle and aircraft certification, here's a local company (local to my home town of Boston, that is) that's making some early but significant progress towards becoming a future fuel provider.

GreatPoint Energy is taking a run at turning the coal-to-fuel gasification process into a real business. This CNET article by clean tech reporter Martin LaMonica provides a good overview. Note: the end product GreatPoint is shooting for here is natural gas, not jet fuel or diesel. But they still provide a good example of some of the challenges, as well as the potential rewards, that await companies that pursue similar paths.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Military Making Fuels Markets - No Takers So Far

As this recent National Defense article describes, you can lead a nascent industry to a fleet of ready vehicles, but you cannot make it make their fuel. This is DOD's experience to date with both land based vehicles as well as aircraft. The Army has tens of thousands of vehicles ready to run on flex fuels, and the Air Force recently completed synth fuel (natural gas/JP-8 blend) certification activities across its entire inventory. Yet today less than half of the Army's ready vehicles and non of the USAF planes have ready suppliers for alternative fuels.

Next up for USAF is the selection of one or two leading bio fuels candidates and the resumption of inventory certification processes. If someone's going to respond with scalable offerings, now might be a good time to let DOD know. Otherwise, there are a few more important energy security objectives it can pursue.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nextgen Generators Needed ... Stat !!!

Another great article from NDIA's National Defense Magazine, which seems to have more and better energy coverage than ever before. This one describes the enormous challenge of delivering tons of fuel overland to the remote, mountainous regions of Afghanistan, and the scarcity of generators to consume it, and the great gains we'd make if only we could field some more tough, efficient generators. Nat Defense's Sandra Irwin:
The gargantuan demand for generators is straining the military’s already overburdened logistics support system, said officials. Transporting fuel on dangerous mine-infested roads also creates additional hazards for troops and contractors.
Soldiers in the field are suffering from senior DOD leadership's lack of operational energy vision and strategy. According to the GAO:
The Defense Department “still lacks an effective approach to fuel demand at forward-deployed locations.” The U.S. military currently operates several hundred bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the Defense Department supplied more than 68 million gallons of fuel each month on average to support those installations. “Fuel demands for these operations is higher than for any war in history."
Calling anyone in industry or academia who could help ... even a little. More energy efficient generators, while not as glamorous a technology as say, solar, wind or fuel cells, would have immediate, life saving consequences for our troops in Afghanistan.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Web 2.0 Primer for DOD Energy Workers

From NDU social media guru (and practitioner) Mark Drapeau, and former Principal Deputy Assistant SECDEF, Linton Wells, comes an outstanding new report titled Social Software and National Security that may have you saying, "I see the DOD connection, but what the heck does this have to do with energy?"

I'll tell you what. I come from a info security background. The last ten years of my working life have involved thinking about how to keep certain info in the hands of certain people ... and out of the hands of others. Today's WSJ note on a recent F-35 breach reminds us: this is a tough job. And as the parodies (see Apple's ad on Vista's security controls ) and realities of working in secure environments show, the speed of communications and collaboration definitely takes a hit. Progress on DOD energy needs to move quickly.

If a boxer spends all 15 rounds covering up, he's never going to learn about his opponent's strategy, let alone be able to go on the offensive and land some blows of his own. My point is that the job of bringing heightened awareness and activity on energy issues across DOD is not something that can happen in secret or in tribal cloisters. Unlike the development of sensitive weapons systems, improvements to energy management and efficiency are something we can (and need to) hasten through better communications. And if a bad guy happens upon what we're up to, it's no big deal.

The different chambers of OSD, the four service branches, the Joint Forces, the intel community,  DLA and the loggies in the field, the war gamers and acquisition folks, and many more in DOD, not to mention like-minded colleagues in DOE, academia and industry need to start sharing ideas and cooperating like never before.

If you're not inclined to try this stuff, no worries. But if you're curious and haven't yet immersed yourself in the Web 2.0 deep end yet, check out the NDU report and start blogging, Youtubing, Twittering, GovLooping, Flickring and soon you'll be fully Linked-In to the an incredible hub of energy team work.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Energy Technology Fail: Space Based Solar

Every once in a while it's good to go Star Trekking and imagine the world a few years, if not centuries, down the road. (Think: QDR.) The question about the future isn't whether it's coming, but when. However, not all futures are created equal, and some future science will likely remain fiction.

As nifty as this idea sounds, all the indicators that could give confidence only give pause:
  • Company (Solaren Corp.) funded mainly by founder
  • Company based in founder's house
  • Non-functioning one page web site
A 2007 DOD National Security Space Office report paints a rosy picture of Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) and calls it "interesting." I agree it's interesting ... very interesting, in fact. The report even references the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) as part of its economics argument (kudos). And talk about a technology for reducing fuel convoy traffic to Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) ...

But my guess is that, collisions with space junk notwithstanding, SBSP from Solaren isn't coming to a theater near you anytime soon. And in the meantime, we've got a lot of other, more proximate, DOD energy fish to fry.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 16, 2009

American Superconductor to help US Tap Untapped Wind Resources

Ever been on a ship on the ocean (not everyone has, you know). But if you have, you've seen how unrelenting offshore winds can be. The May issue of National Defense Magazine has an article that focuses on this large, undeveloped US energy resource. Even without new technology, there's the potential to provide a major fraction of US energy needs with offshore wind farms.
However, American Superconductor Corp's High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) wire has the potential to enable turbines in the 10 MW class (3 MW are typically the largest found today) that also reduce the total weight by about one-third. This could be a big win for the industry, no pun intended. But before we get too excited, there's one persistent problem to keep in mind. The article cautions:
One of the greatest obstacles is the nation’s antiquated electric grid. An Energy Department study reports that approximately 300,000 megawatts-worth of wind projects are awaiting grid connection because of inadequate transmission capacity.
So, don't forget when you hear about progress with smart grid technology and standards, it's not just the savings we'll reap from resting power plants due to better energy management, it's also the ready renewable resources a smarter and better grid will enable to come online.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Navy Tackling Operational Energy with Incentives

It is well documented that all three services are making demonstrable progress throttling down their energy use at their fixed installations. What's been less apparent, but is starting to emerge, are effective fuel savings strategies in the operational DOD, to include platforms (planes, ships, ground vehicles) and Forward Operating Bases (FOBs).

Here's a update on progress the Navy is making in op energy:
With more participation across the fleet, the Navy has seen record savings over the past year: In fiscal 2008, the Navy saved $136 million in energy costs, or about 1.1 million barrels of fuel, and it’s on track to beat that in fiscal 2009; in the first quarter alone, the Navy saved $48 million. Participation has gone from 25 ships two years ago to 70 ships for fiscal ’09, according to Naval Sea Systems Command. For fiscal 2008, the command paid out a total of $2 million to efficient ships. The destroyer Porter, based in Norfolk, Va., received $34,000 as the fourth-place ship of among Atlantic Fleet’s five winners.

One Commanding Officer's perspective on how he's getting it done, is here. Good stuff.


Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Pentagon Energy Priority: Save Soldiers' Lives

Saving money is one thing; saving soldiers' lives is quite another. This article from today's WAPO provides a rundown of the Pentagon is spending stimulus money and other funds to reduce convoy traffic in war zones via a wide variety of approaches. According to the Post, citing OSD's Al Shaffer and Army BG Steven Anderson, while a number of benefits will likely accrue from this work, there's one that trumps them all:
By some estimates, about half of the U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are related to attacks with improvised explosive devices on convoys, many of which are carrying fuel. As of March 20, 3,426 service members had been killed by hostile fire in Iraq, 1,823 of them victims of IEDs. "Every time you bring a gallon of fuel forward, you have to send a convoy," said Alan R. Shaffer, director of defense research and engineering at the Pentagon. "That puts people's lives at risk." "The honest-to-God truth, the most compelling reason to do it is it saves lives," said Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, director of operations and logistics for the Army. "It takes drivers off the road."
Perhaps the protection of troops will succeed in altering DOD behavior where money savings and mission assurance has not.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

You Sure You Want a Smart Grid?

Just one question for you. If this is how grid operators deal with risk pre-smart grid, how the heck are they going to secure the web enabled, bi-directional communications world coming at us with a gathering head of steam?

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC):
... is asking operators to take another look at their risk assessment methodologies and conduct a new evaluation of critical assets and associated cyber assets. Too many organizations are starting their evaluations with the assumption that no system is critical until it is proved to be so. [NERC CSO] Assante suggested that they reverse the process and assume that every system is critical until it can be demonstrated otherwise.
You don't have to be a security expert to smell several rotten things in these few pages. More on this to follow ...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 2009 Update from Air Force's Energy Chief

Kevin Billings shared a few minutes today, responding to three status questions I had queued up for him on: 1) the synth fuel initiative, 2) adoption of energy metrics, and 3) the Air Force's take on smart and micro grids. Here, without much embellishment, are his updates:

1) Synthetic Fuels - Certification of USAF's current inventory to run on a 50/50 natural gas-derived fuel/J-P8 blend is on or ahead of schedule. Other details include:
  • More focus coming up on bio fuels
  • Will down select to 1 or 2 bio fuel blends and begin new engine cert process for them
In short, USAF will be ready for its 2016 goal of using 50% alternative fuels, and is thereby making a market for these fuels. But the big question is: will industry be ready to provide new fuels in sufficient quantities?

2) Energy Metrics - Alas, Billings noted that the Energy Efficiency KPP would have been used extensively in Future/Next Gen Long Range Bomber, which Secretary Gates just recommended for deletion. But he said that USAF's acquisition arm is taking the FBCF and Energy Efficiency KPP very seriously. (I should be able to report more on that in the future.)

3) Air Force Smart / Micro Grids - According to Billings, while still in embryonic stages, new grid technologies and processes are at the forefront of USAF thinking. The primary driver is mitigation of the risk posed by the brittle national grid. The task re the smart grid is to work with utility providers to coordinate and collaborate on bringing smart sensors and other energy management capabilities on base to capture savings. The micro grid concept applies when thinking about bases as power islands, being able to run their own critical mission systems during local or regional blackouts. One of the lead agencies he referenced is the civil engineering team, AFCESA, at Tyndall AFB in Florida.

A detail I especially liked was Billings referring to the towns that host USAF bases as "community partners." He's interested in seeing if, should local blackouts occur, USAF bases could provide surplus power for critical community services. Wouldn't that be something ... something great.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Conference Alert: NDIA Energy & Environment, Denver, 4-7 May 2009

The National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) is holding its annual energy-related conference in less than a month in beautiful Denver, Colorado. I've been advised that hotel rooms are filling up, so you'd better get a move-on unless you're planning on camping out in Estes Park.

Here's a link to the conference's main page, and this link will get you the energy track schedule with presentation titles and speakers' names. Topics are mainly facilities focused, though bio fuels and forward operating bases (FOBs) get some attention as well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Home Grown Energy Security: Big U.S. Energy Potential

Oil, gas, wind, waves and tides ... inside the OCS, we own all of these. The OCS, or Outer Continental Shelf, is defined in a recent Dept of Interior (DOI) report as:
1.7 billion acres of Federal jurisdiction lands submerged under the ocean seaward of State boundaries, generally beginning 3 geographical miles off the coastline (for most States) and extending for at least 200 nautical miles to the edge of the Exclusive Economic Zone.  
Federal jurisdiction means states can't squabble over these resources. See this LA Times summary of some of the highlights here, and the full DOI executive summary here. Seems like if we wanted to, and if we could improve the grid to handle lots more wind power input, we'd be closer to becoming masters of our own energy destiny.

Energy security isn't a destination you can ever reach, but you can do things to move towards (or away from) it. Let's see if the still-new administration can help point our country in a more secure direction.

OCS Map: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gates Lowers Boom

There's no bigger news today than what the SECDEF had to say about what he thinks DOD needs ... and what it doesn't. I'll make a couple of comments about the possible energy implications of the Gate's recommendations, and leave you to formulate your own.

First of all, this statement speaks volumes about bringing more responsible practices to the DOD budgeting process:
Many of these programs have been funded in the past by supplementals.  We must move away from the ad hoc funding of long-term commitments. 
Secondly, Christian Lowe at DefenseTech pulled out this chestnut which came towards the end of Gate's statement, confirming his commitment to re-balance expenditures with additional weight applied to personnel and our current conflicts:
... it is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk – or, in effect, to “run up the score” in a capability where the United States is already dominant – is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are under invested and potentially vulnerable.
Some of the platform program highlights were:
  • Killing Army FCS and AF Future Bomber
  • Capping F-22's at 187 and C-17's at 205
  • Building out the F-35 to a future target over 2,000.
  • Boosting Predator UAV prodution
His only direct comment about energy came as a nit re: FCS, saying its vehicles' lower weight and better fuel efficiency seemed to miss the point of recent counter insurgency lessons, where the heavy and heavily armored MRAP vehicles have had success. Overall, there's going to be more money spent on people and less on platforms. That's an energy use pro or a con depending on whether you think existing (and aging) platforms get more out of a gallon of J-P8 than would their more high tech successors. For me, for now, it's a wash.  

Congress may balk at much of this, but I do think there's a chance that Gates' emphasis on more responsible budgeting and less reliance on supplementals may create a friendly environment for better understanding of energy demand and its consequences via metrics. Now, if he'll just appoint the Director for Operational Energy we can get started ...

Photo: DOD

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Can Cars Drive DOD Micro Grids? We'll Soon See.

This is about devising the technical means for a "Plan B" so when DOD units lose the steady flow of electrons from extant power grids, they don't lose their ability to fulfill their missions. Last month's amendment to an Army Broad Agency Agreement (BAA) boosted the incentives for integrators to make headway on the "brittle grid" problem facing bases, both CONUS and forward deployed (FOBs). This action seems to build on battlefield energy management work in a program called Army "HI-Power" noted here last year.

Competitors in position to win this R&D funding are already in motion, but others who follow the space more generally may not have seen it yet. Most interesting is the provision for tapping the power storage (see: gas tanks & batteries) and power generation (see: engines) capabilities of vehicles to supplement other forms of power, including standard diesel generators, wind, solar, etc. Thanks to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), one thing the DOD knows how to do is get fuel to where it's needed.

The short-term schedule for those seeking the $5.7M in first year funds is: 
  • Informal Talks: March 5, 2009 thru April 6, 2009 
  • Proposals Due: April 7, 2009 thru May 7, 2009 
  • Estimated Award Date: June 22, 2009 
From an energy security point of view, this is good stuff; we'll be keeping an eye on it for sure.