Wednesday, November 24, 2010

AFSAB Energy Study Report: Securing the Value Chain

This week, the Air Force released a previously FOUO report by their Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) entitled Alternative Sources of Energy for U.S. Air Force Bases. The report, originally published in classified form in August 2009, presents four recommendations and one theme. The theme remains the same: “the lack of a concerted systems approach to the problem”. The SAB sees the glass half full and I agree with them.

"Many installations are already engaged in alternative energy projects funded by private investors (such as local energy companies) and by the Air Force. These projects tend be initiated by enterprising individuals seizing timely opportunities; they are usually not designed as part of an integrated base energy system".

Throughout the DoD, enterprising individuals are championing the cause, making headway sometimes despite the system. These islands of excellence will continue to lead the charge. What is different today from August 2009 is the position of the senior leadership in all Services. All of the critical positions have been filled. The leadership is on record. Those commanders in the field who are making things happen now have friends in court.

In business it is important to secure the value change. In the military it is the chain of command.The challenge will be to put the racehorses in harness to pull the load. Not to beat an analog to death, but every sled team needs a lead dog and the Services must select lead installations where the commander is intrinsically motivated to achieving energy security, not because he or she was told to, but because they understand the implications of an insecure value chain.

The SAB study started with fairly general terms of reference, but focused in on three specific areas:

  • Analyze energy needs, usage, vulnerabilities, and conservation efforts: the Study found the ongoing conversation efforts to be effective in reducing current usage at Air Force installations. Much progress has been made already, but there are vulnerabilities.
  • Identify and assess alternative energy sources and recommend potential technologies and systems for Air Force installations near-, mid- and far-term: the Study found particular attention needs to be focused on power generation and storage solutions.
  • Assess the benefits and challenges associated with alternative energy sources: the Study found the Air Force faces significant challenges in operating its bases independently.

The four recommendations were in the areas of systems approach and teaming; cyber and physical security; concurrent pursuit of RE and storage solutions and, finally, nukes. Excerpts are below:

Recommendation 1

Implement a more concerted systems approach to the Air Force’s pursuit of alternative energy sources. The Panel recommends strengthening in-house competency in areas such as energy technologies, systems security, and energy compatibility with base missions.

Furthermore, the people within the Air Force civil engineering organizations who focus on energy and security of facilities should be augmented by partnerships with the relevant Department of Energy experts. The Study recommends elevating the role of the Base Energy Manager to strengthen operational understandings of energy security and enable implementation of an enterprise approach to alternative energy systems.

Recommendation 2

Strengthen plans for the security of energy sources and distribution elements at Air Force bases. Existing and future energy systems must be hardened against physical and cyber-attacks. Planning should include standardized assessments of vulnerabilities and risks and risk mitigation planning for mission-critical priorities. Microgrid and smart grid technologies should be considered, as well as ways to diversify energy sources and supply chains.

Recommendation 3

Pursue energy storage solutions and renewable energy sources concurrently. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar are intermittent; bases need energy storage systems to match energy supply with demand. Energy storage must, therefore, be considered in energy system planning.

In the near-term, the Study recommends storage be incorporated into energy systems for load-leveling and bridging intermittent supplies. Microgrid control systems should also be used to better integrate energy storage to match demand for power and to address the need for improved security and allow independent operation from the commercial grid during disruptions.

For the mid- to far-term, the Study recommends the Air Force partner with others in the development of technologies to create liquid fuels from renewable sources. The Air Force should also partner with others on the adoption of clean and efficient backup power systems useful for load-leveling and for the development of hydrocarbon fuel cells or microturbine systems for cleaner conversion of liquid fuels to backup power.

Recommendation 4

Evaluate emerging small nuclear power systems, identify bases that would derive the most benefit from such systems, and make nuclear energy a part of the Air Force’s energy planning for the future.

The clear implication of the report is the importance of bringing all resources to bear. DoD, DoE and private partners must work together toward a common goal that satisfies the requirements for security and economic viability. A market signal from DoD changes the playing field. Right now, the brightest minds in America are headed to Wall Street to create nothing. A concerted effort to secure our installations’ energy requirements, coupled with legislative support for incentives can redirect that flow of brain power into energy innovation that can be the driver for a second American century.

The report contains some excellent discussions of technologies to include the often overlooked, yet most cost effective avenues to energy security, conservation. Although focused on installations, there is an appendix for Expeditionary Energy Technologies. I highly recommend this report for energy experts and neophytes such as myself. It is an excellent resource.

Thanks to Mike Aimone, Energy Scout and Maven, for this tip.

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