Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DOD & Aviation Biofuels Mid 2009 Update

Dr. Karbuz (as usual) offers an excellent status update on biofuels research from aviation and DOD perspectives. You'll get educated, but once he's taken you through all the milestones and anecdotes of recent progress, it's his first and last words words that drive home the enormity of this challenge:

First ...
Commercial Jet fuel has stringent requirements. Alternatives are expected to perform exactly like kerosene so that aircraft do not have to be modified. They are expected to be environmentally sustainable and cost effective. 
Last ...
All these are good news, at least the cost side. But the scale of required production still remains a problem. By the way, who will invest in biofuels production without having any purchase guarantee or government subsidies?
Here's the full post. And here's a release from SAIC on its algae work for DARPA.

Photo: Reuters

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Havel Tells Europe to Dump Russia from its Energy Script

Former playwright turned revolutionary turned Czech President (now retired) Vaclav Havel has a history of calling out the emperor when his news clothes are lacking. Europe is facing a Devil's Bargain, with Russian entreaties to continue as its trusted supplier of natural gas on one side, balanced against the alternative of seeking new energy sources and risking Russia's wrath. As I've said on this blog previously here, here, and most recently here, it's long past time for Europe to build itself some leverage via development of credible options.

Here's Havel in Bloomberg:
Rather than buy gas from Russia, Europe should pursue projects like the Nabucco pipeline to import gas from the Caspian Sea region through Turkey, Havel said. On May 6, the European Union approved an initial investment of 200 million euros ($277 million) for the pipeline which was endorsed by Turkey two days later. It’s expected to begin operation in 2015, according to the EU. “They should have come up with that years ago,” Havel said referring to the Nabucco plan, and said Europe must wean itself from fossil fuels.
As one DOD Energy Blog reader noted, this situation mirrors in some ways the brittle grid challenge facing DOD facilities. The initial get-well path is the creation of "energy islands" so critical functions can be powered in the event of an outage. European communities reliant on Russia for heating should be doing everything they can to produce energy locally via renewables and any other resources they can find (e.g., waste to heat). Much of Western Europe has been building out renewables at a tremendous rate, but Eastern Europe lags, and both need to aggressively explore and execute every possible energy option. Full article is here.

Yet the problem of scale remains, as well as the many pitfalls that plague new pipeline projects (see excellent backgrounder on the problems facing Nabucco by DOD and European energy expert Sohbet Karbuz here.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Mighty Wind: High Altitude Wind Power

One look at Sky Windpower's site will tell you the company and its potential products are still more potential than kinetic. However, that doesn't mean they're not worth a look as DOD ponders options for solving the brittle grid challenge to CONUS facilities. Two Standford researches have just finished a study that shows some of the greatest concentrations of high altitude wind power can be found near some of the world's largest centers of power demand, including the eastern coast of USA. This article provides more detail on the promise and the potential pitfalls of this visually captivating concept.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seems Wrong to Call Them "Drones"

The DOD Energy Blog has pondered the energy demand implications of UAVs before ... like here for example. It's still too early to tell which way this is going, but if you read the news you know that UAVs are on an upward trajectory and manned aircraft are heading for a landing. Here's two very different yet recent signposts that may tell us a little more about the vectors these new fangled aircraft are flying at.

The first is from Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of the outstanding 2004 book: The Pentagon's New Map. His article "The New Drones and the Re-symmetricized Battlefield" contends that UAVs are the US's first real equalizer in the asymmetrical wars in which we're engaged ... and that there's no question they're here to stay.

To this I add the otherwise mundane details of a company's conference call to its investors. Today, among other things publicly-traded AeroVironment revealed to investors and analysts, were these two nuggets:
  • We continue to believe that we are strategically well-positioned with our Unmanned Aircraft Systems focused on actionable intelligence and communication, and our efficient energy systems focused on clean electric vehicles and energy
  • We have seen a growing amount of our UAS funding reflected in DoD budget line items over the last few years. The current FY09 supplemental and FY10 DoD budget requests, although not yet final, suggest that this growth trend will continue.
If Barnett's well-informed top down view, bolstered by AeroVironment's bottom-up anecdotes regarding its mini-UAVs tell us anything, it's that UAVs are coming on strong in DOD thinking, planning and execution. But what does this mean for future fuel demand? Each UAV may be smaller and lighter and use comparably less fuel than its manned equivalent. But what if we eventually deploy 2, 10, 100 or 1,000 times as many of them as we currently do fighter, bomber and surveillance platforms? Will they be partially solar or fuel-cell powered and therefore not add substantially to our JP-8 demand? Or will they consume jet fuel in ever increasing quantities and put pressure on DOD to find an alternative to fossil fuels even faster than it's trying today?

Of course I don't know the answer and I bet DOD doesn't either, but stay tuned ... the plot only thickens.

Photo: AeroVironment

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Updated: QDR 2010 Coming into Focus with No Focus on Energy

Feb 2010 Update: QDR just released to public. Wrote it up here.


Jan 2010 Update: I'm told there will be a significant discussion of energy issues in the QDR when we get to see it. That'll be in a month or two, I believe. Stay tuned ...


We're in the early stages of the development of the first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) since the advent of $150/barrel oil one year ago. The way this DOD QDR Fact Sheet lays it out, however, mentioning only "scarcity of resources" and "climate change," energy may or may not get any extra attention this cycle. Same holds true from this 2010 QDR thematic preview from DOD Buzz.

It's hard to believe that with energy half of what it was 12 months ago, and twice what it was 6 months ago, the massive price volatility hasn't snapped more seniors awake. Not one mention of fuel ... nor any of energy management or energy security.

Well, not to get all doom and gloom on you - I'll admit I know there are at least a couple of folks working this QDR from an energy angle, but it remains to be seen how loud their voices will be.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

CNAS Links Natural and National Security

Following 2007's CNA report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, a new CNAS focus area on "Natural Security," makes it clear that acknowledging the connections between natural resources (including but not limited to fossil fuels) is no longer a fringe activity. Here's part of Sharon Burke's take on our limited understanding of the importance of minerals and resource supply chains:
The United States, and this includes for militarily significant systems, does not actually know if we are vulnerable to supply disruptions of some strategically important minerals. Planning for and managing such uncertainty can be a security challenge. Note also that supply chains are physically vulnerable: the entire energy supply and distribution infrastructure – from pipelines to shipping chokepoints to the vast domestic electric grid – is highly vulnerable to sabotage, natural disasters, and disrepair.
The six categories examined are: energy, minerals, water, land, climate change and biodiversity. I think you'll be surprised by the incredible amount of interconnectedness Burke and team uncover across these domains. Here's the great paper, and there's an accompanying blog to boot!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FBCF Gets a Boost from Above

At last month's CNA report release event, new DOD Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Deputy Director Ashton Carter said a lot of good things, including:
We must measure the fully burdened cost of energy.
Amen. He also said that even if he weren't naturally inclined to be working on energy issues for DOD right now, the intense level of focus on energy coming out of the White House and the National Security Council is so high that it would behoove him to work energy issues from a career standpoint alone. That may be true for an increasing number in DOD (and elsewhere in Fed gov) who never previously considered energy as part of their day job.

This short memo from Sandra Irwin sets the stage.

Photo: Boston.com

Sunday, June 14, 2009

EULogy for Installation Energy Problems - The Benefits of the Enhanced Use Lease (EUL)

As you'll see, Sabot 6 CEO and DOD Energy Blog guest blogger Dan Nolan has been busy lately. First, the intro, from the Army's Enhanced Use Leasing Page:
With the expanded authority of Title 10 USC § 2667, each of the Services within the Departments of Defense have the authority and incentive to obtain a broad range of financial and in-kind considerations for leasing opportunities. The changes to Section 2667 expand the purposes for which lease proceeds may be used, and augment the types of in-kind consideration which may be accepted for leases. These changes maximize the utility and value of installation real property and provide additional tools for managing the installation's assets to achieve business efficiencies. 
Now here's Dan with notes from front lines of DOD renewable energy development:
I just returned from the oral defense of a proposal to build a minimum of 500 megawatts of solar power generation at Fort Irwin, California. The sites that Fort Irwin identified have the potential for over a gigawatt of power generation, essentially a new  nuclear plant. It will cost the Army nothing. In fact, the installation has the opportunity to receive secure power produced on post (only a fraction of the produced power), at fair market value PLUS in kind services from the commercial entity or the equivalent in cash for the lease. The in kind services (road building, etc.) would be of direct benefit to the installation. The business entity that wins this contract will be able to sell the excess power into the California, Nevada and New Mexico markets that are desperate for new power generation. If we were to utilize the millions of acre of "buffer zones", the land surrounding military installations separating them from the civilian communities, to produce power from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass (you name it!), we could begin to substantially reduce our requirements for coal fired power plants. It is just good business ... and business is very interested.
The Defense Science Board identified the vulnerability of installations due to being tied to a fragile power grid. Dollars for installations continue to shrink. Clean, renewable energy becomes cost competitive as demand for the technology increases. The process is time consuming and sometimes onerous, but has so many upsides that it needs to be a national movement. Every installation commander should be pursuing these opportunities. It won't all happen on their watch, but their children will thank them. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Russia's Pipeline Plans are Europe's Energy Security Hell

How'd you like to be in Europe's shoes? I wouldn't:
The EU currently relies on Russia for a quarter of its total gas supplies. Of the bloc's 27 member states, seven are almost totally dependent on Russian gas.
If I were Europe, I'd be doing every conceivable thing to get free of Russia's noose ... before it tightens again in Winter. This written from the perspective of another country dependent on less-than-friendly energy suppliers. Maybe it's easier to see how crazy this situation is when it's not your own country ... although I'm not sure why.

Then again, short term ... are there any truly viable options?

Map Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, June 8, 2009

DOD Energy Policy: A Study in Stasis

As much as I love to celebrate progress (or what seem like indicators of progress), every once in a while I get a slap in the face that reminds me we're largely treading water. A recent and very well timed timed slap, delivered by a gentleman who's been working DOD energy from the inside and outside for a long time, is one I hope you take some time to consider. It's essentially a call and response referencing excerpts from yet another good article by Sandra Irwin in the most recent National Defense: "Prolonged Wars Tax Military Capacity to Deploy Electricity ".

Some of the comments (below in bold) are purely mine, some are the contributer's, all are meant to be constructive, but you'll see they're all pointing in the same direction:
The Defense Department “still lacks an effective approach to fuel demand at forward-deployed locations,” said William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities at GAO. He spoke at a hearing of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee.
Who in DOD sees the problems created by the fuel demand policy vacuum and is working non-stop to find a fix?
"Managing fuel at forward-deployed locations has not been a priority …. and reduction efforts have not been well coordinated or comprehensive,” said Solis.
Why, exactly, is that?
One reason why the Pentagon is having difficulties managing energy consumption at forward locations is the absence of data about fuel demand, said Solis. “We found that the information on fuel demand management strategies and reduction efforts is not shared among locations, military services, and across the department in a consistent manner.”
Why not? And who's taking the steps to make sure this problem is remedied stat?
The Army’s current generators are rugged enough for combat use but they are fuel hogs. The service is now testing a militarized generator — called the “advanced mobile power system” — that is expected to consume 10 to 20 percent less fuel. (AB note: this system is most often called AMMPS, as in "Advanced Medium-sized Mobile Power Source".)  A forward-deployed battalion typically requires about 24 60-kilowatt generators. The experimental generator is made by Cummins Corp., based in Minnesota. The company will ship prototypes to the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in June so they can be tested for at least a year before they are shipped to deployed forces possibly by 2010, [DDRE's Al] Shaffer said. “It’s not as fast as we would like to go, but we don’t want to field systems before we are sure that they won’t cause additional problems.” If the tests are successful, the Army plans to buy up to 67,000 of the advanced mobile generators in 2010 and 2011.
This has been going on for 3 or 4 years. Still another year to go just to test?
The Army also launched an energy-management experiment called “hybrid intelligent power generator,” or HI-Power.
Does anyone in the field know about this? Is leadership holding anyone accountable to get this technology into the field the instant it's ready to start helping?
The Pentagon should consider offering commanders financial incentives to consume less fuel, he said. GAO investigators at Camp Lemonier — a U.S. naval base in the Horn of Africa — found that base commanders had identified a number of ways to curtail fuel demand, but they saw little return on the investment because they would not be able to apply the savings toward camp improvements.
Again, what's the policy solution being worked here? Who's got the lead on this initiative?
Until more efficient generators and mobile grids become available, the Pentagon is seeking to drop fuel consumption in the field via common-sense techniques. One of the most successful has been to spray insulating foam on military tents.
This is activity we trot out every time ... what's next ???
Shaffer said it is difficult to establish “metrics” for energy consumption at forward bases because every operation is different and each confronts unique circumstances that may drive energy use up or down. “Deploying to Iraq, and air-conditioning tents in summer takes a lot more energy than deploying to some place where it’s a temperate region,” Shaffer told the subcommittee. “So I’d like to tell you we have good metrics. We do not. We probably need to get better metrics. But we don’t have specified goals other than down.”
Another recurring refrain: "metrics are difficult." Understood. But that doesn't justify complete stasis. Maybe something is going on somewhere. But I've asked around and found nothing. Where are the version 1.0 energy metrics we can learn from and build on going forward? What's being used in the JLTV program? What about you Air Force? Navy? Bueller?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A New Climate for DOD Climate Discussions

Until now this blog has stayed clear of climate and global warming issues. Haven't viewed that space as particularly helpful (or necessary) for furthering the DOD energy thinking.Well, the climate discussion, replete with pointers to relevant energy vectors, is happening in DOD just the same.

Hat tip to SM at CNA for this link to a great post at Good Blogs that sums up DOD's evolving take on climate issues. This part will give you a feel for where it's coming from ... and where it's going:
This is not, for the sake of this conversation, an environmental issue to be fretted over by effete, knuckle-knawing, liberal arts-educated, coastal types. Rather, it’s a security issue, and you’re going to be talking about war and intelligence and the military and terrorism. (And, by the way, here’s what not to mention: Al Gore, polar bears, Europe, and any celebrity or politician who didn’t play a Terminator.) You can make these arguments because the Pentagon, the CIA, and a veritable cavalcade of other national security experts have already made them for you.
I may not come back to climate again for a while or at all, depending on the role it comes to play in the Department's future energy plans and policy. But it's good to see it's being given some thought by leadership.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Getting More Granular re: the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel

Thank you Scott Sklar of the Stella Group for pointing me to Steve Siegel's work. Granted, little's going to happen until the Director of Operational Energy get's named and installed, and all eyes are on the first real test case for FBCF and the energy efficiency KPP: the JLTV. 

But for now, Google for "Steve Siegel" and FBCF and you get a FBCF goldmine, part of which includes documents from the FBCF workshop held at NDU last year. See here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Put Your Head Between Your Knees - another Volley of Oil Volatility is Underway

Call it a yo-yo (I have many times), or a roller coaster (to better convey the anxiety), but whatever terms you use, oil is on the verge of doubling in price since reaching the 30's a few months ago. This link to a recent Mckinsey report on oil futures requires a paid membership. This article from the Times of London's Liam Halligan is free, and does as good a job as any at laying out many of the moving parts that make forecasting the price of a barrel of oil a ridiculous, though necessary, undertaking.