Thursday, August 26, 2010

Living with the Enemy: US Convoys through the Taliban's Eyes

Mid September Update: sorry folks, but while the link to this piece the CNAS site still works, the video it introduces has gone dead. Perhaps the video is live elsewhere, but we've all likely got bigger, more urgent fish to fry.


The Center for New American Security (CNAS) featured THIS embedded Youtube video today, of an embedded Western journalist who wins the Taliban's trust and then films them as they go about their lives, including domestic scenes which humanize them, and battle scenes which show mountain ridge attacks on American convoys.

As this blog (and its featured JFQ articles) often discuss the heavy burden fuel convoys place on our war fighters, thought this might give readers a fuller (i.e., much less abstract) appreciation of the threat we're facing getting fuel delivered in Afghanistan.

Photo credit: The National Guard on

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DOD Energy Worlds Collide: New DOEPP Speaks to DEB and Outlines Priorities

Sharon Burke, the first-ever Director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs (DOEPP, rhymes with "soap") carved out some time from her busy schedule to give the DOD Energy Blog (DEB) some early scope guidance from her org. I asked if she'd call out the "first wins" she is shooting for, and here's what I got:

The first big win is the establishment and staffing of the DOEPP office itself, at the Assistant Secretary of Defense level. IMHO, this is something folks in the DOD energy diaspora have been calling for for over a decade - pretty remarkable to see it finally come to fruition. Burke also called out the following DOEPP attributes. DOEPP:
  • Has a cross cutting view and purviews both strategic and geo-strategic
  • Looks at operational and tactical vulnerabilities and opportunities (my emphasis)
  • Is a central focal point for energy budgeting and funding
  • Will bring a sustained focus on energy aspects of combat capability, and will keep the focus tight on combat capabilities so the DOD community will understand this is the primary mission: to support the operational mission from an energy perspective
Burke then made a point about her interest in anti-access issues, saying it was one thing when fuel and logistics lines were behind the lines and our equipment wasn't all that energy intensive. But now (see: Afghanistan) fuel lines are right in the middle of the battle space and many of our systems completely cease to function w/o a steady stream of fuel or electricity.

So back to the subject of "wins"; she stressed that current operations are her top priority, and pointed to the the Marines' XFOB at Twenty-nine Palms, CA as one place where new energy technologies and techniques will soon be harvested for use on the battlefield. She also mentioned some recent generator management successes that could potentially provide widespread energy and logistics savings if the lessons can be shared widely.

When I pressed for more, she said some "wins" won't be visible for decades even if they take place soon. By this, of course, Burke was referring to the requirements and acquisition process, that until now hasn't placed an operational value on fuel efficiency and hasn't taken advantage of energy metrics. Should the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF) and energy efficiency key performance parameter (KPP) become built into the methods we use to define what we need and what we build, buy and field, our war fighters 10-15 years in the future will be the beneficiaries of a lighter, more mobile and more resilient force. However, should Burke and others seeking these changes not make quick progress, then our future fighters are doomed to fight with the same energy burdens their predecessors have consistently struggled with.

One other subtle but important note about metrics: Burke wants to make sure they're not too complicated to use. From what I've seen, I think this is an excellent point to champion.

All that said, what are the "must-do's: by the end of this year? They include:
  • Define an operational energy strategy
  • Issue a budget certification report
  • Fully stand up the DOEPP organization and office (including an active web site, which I'll link to the minute it exists)
One final point: of course I asked about tribalism and politics and the concern that individual orgs would resist change, rather than cooperate with the DOEPP. Burke said so far she's gotten nothing but energetic and enthusiastic cooperation from folks all across the Department. And she insists that she's working hard to foster a cooperative relationship with the services, while everyone begins to start thinking differently about energy in every aspect of their operations ... with particular attention paid towards helping those currently in harm's way.

Burke and the DOEPP office clearly have a long, long way to go. But at least we can say they've started. That's more than I would have imagined possible just a few short years ago. Please help 'em if you can.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

White House Forum on Energy Security: Signs of Leadership amidst Congressional Stasis

Dear reader, brace yourself another outburst from roving, roaming and occasionally raving DOD Energy reporter and guest blogger, Dan Nolan. He somehow manages to be in the right places at the right times to pick up on the prevailing winds in DOD and national energy policy formation.

On 27 July 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a briefing at the White House, hosted by Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. It was entitled the “White House Clean Energy Forum on Energy Security”. The event had been schedule to coincide with the roll out of the much anticipated Senate energy bill. After the 1,200 page House bill, the Senate bill was expected to take the bold step of finally putting a value on carbon. This was the seminal event that would finally create a value for energy security, make renewables competitive in cost and save the polar bears. Apparently exhausted by all the political fights this year, the Senate did not take a bold step and the bill had all the impact of a low velocity marshmallow. I sure am glad our troops don’t get tired.

Despite the disappointment, the White House carried on with the Forum featuring Ms. Browner and The Green Hornet, Navy Secretary Mabus. I attend at the invitation of Operation Free which represents veterans for clean energy and made up about half of the 100 plus people attending the Forum. Ms. Browner expressed her disappointment with the lack of substance in the Senate bill, but also said she would be looking at what other authorities were at the disposable of the Executive to continue to seek energy security for the Nation. She took the time to introduce Secretary Mabus and then darted out of the room to the next environmental/energy crisis.

Secretary Mabus, who has become the President’s go to guy on economic recovery following the disaster in the Gulf (Mexico, not Persian) talked about the dangers of fossil fuel dominance in mobility:
We don’t let them dictate how to build our ships, but we do let them decide if we can have the fuel we need.
He also talked about his energy goals for fleets as well as shore installations that exceed mandates and executive orders and demonstrates his leadership among the Services. The Secretary then introduced Mr. Dan Poneman, Deputy Secretary, Department of Energy, and then dashed out the door to a town hall meeting somewhere on an oil soaked beach.

Mr. Poneman lauded the efforts of DOD in this critical area, especially as a test bed for new technology. He also announced a new Memorandum of Understanding between DOE and DOD on energy security. He said:
The Department of Energy and the Department of Defense’s shared vision of a safe, secure energy future has provided us with a strong foundation to work together on energy issues. Working together, we can speed the transition to a clean-energy economy while helping protect our troops. Building a new energy future is the right thing to do to strengthen our national security, to promote economic prosperity, and to improve our environment. It is also the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform.
This will be a process worth watching if DOE starts bringing new dollars to DOD energy efforts. Mr. Poneman then introduced the brand spanking new Director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, Ms. Sharon Burke.

During her opening remarks Ms. Burke demonstrated her sense of humor by referring to herself by the acronym for her position, the DOEPP (pronounced DOPE). That sense of humor will be necessary as she takes on this mission. Ms. Burke then brought up an impressive panel of DOD energy luminaries. She was joined by the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Ms Erin Conaton; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Mr. Tom Hicks; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Infrastructure, Mr. Jerry Hansen and Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Installation and Environment, DOD, Mr. John Conger. Each cited an impressive array of statistics about installation energy. Operationally it was noted that we sustain one casualty for every twenty four convoys executed.

Spray foamed tents and the Net Zero Plus Joint Concept Technology Demonstrations were both mentioned, but no new programs, policies or efforts were announced, other than the rebranding of the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) as Defense Logistics Agency, Energy. Not sure what that means operationally, but environmentally, it means a lot of new letterhead.

In the interest of brevity (and the fact I left early) I will not detail the follow on panel about Energy in Policy featuring Sherri Goodman, former Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN(R) Gordon Sullivan and fellow OpFree member and combat veteran Robin Eckstein. Robin had been a truck driver in numerous convoys in Iraq and knew firsthand the terror of IEDs while hauling fuel. She represents the thousands of young veterans out there that understand that there is a fully burdened cost of fuel in dollars AND blood.

In sum, the importance of this forum was the showcasing of DOE/DOD energy efforts by the White House. The failure of the Legislative Branch to address seriously our dependence on a commodity we do not control will be mitigated to some extent by the Executive’s power to regulate and invest in energy in the name of national security. DOD clearly recognizes the vulnerability of its installations to a fragile grid and the impact that oil dependence places on their operational capabilities. Economically, DOD represents thirty million acres (about the size of Pennsylvania), two billion square feet of facilities and an annual facilities energy bill of $3.8 billion.

When DOD decides to place a value on energy security, when it decides to get serious about energy security on installations, it will move markets and business will respond. DOD now has a lead for operational energy: Ms. Burke has assumed the mantle of the DOEPP, Secretary Mabus is The Green Hornet for the Navy, Under Secretary Conaton is at the helm for the Air Force and if the Army ever fills the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Privatization, we'll have a full house.

Photo credit: the National Guard on

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

DOD and DOE Pledge Tighter Teaming on Energy

I've met DOE folks knowledgeable about DOD energy efforts in the past (certainly this is the case with renewables, microgrid and energy efficiency activities at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar). And conversely, know young DODers with some DOE/NREL time under their belts. Those interactions have proven fruitful, because now the two biggest players in USG energy are formalizing their intentions to work as a team on energy on multiple levels, and across the entire portfolio of energy issues:
... Signed by Deputy Secretary Poneman and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, [the Memorandum of Understanding or MOU] covers efforts in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, water efficiency, fossil fuels, alternative fuels, efficient transportation technologies and fueling infrastructure, grid security, smart grid, storage, waste-to-energy, basic science research, mobile/deployable power, small modular reactor nuclear energy, and related areas.
In particular, seems like the on-base nuclear notion is still going strong, especially given the fact that regulatory factors are discussed, not just technical:
Collaboration will include NRC review and licensing of nuclear power plants that are deployed for DOD purposes, and are located on or adjacent to DOD US installations.
The DOD also offers up one of its biggest assets for this effort - its CONUS bases:
The Department of Defense aims to speed innovative energy and conservation technologies from laboratories to military end users, and it uses military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
To me, the ability to use our many hundreds of bases, each a small-to-medium sized town, as energy and energy efficiency technology and process labs is a huge win. But then again, I don't live on a base anymore.

Partnership announcements in the business world are often more about marketing than substance. But we've been seeing them with uncommon frequency around energy matters in the normally tightly siloed Federal government recently (see post on USN and USDA pairing announcement, here). Let's hope the sum of the parts helps all orgs involved go further/faster than was previously possible.

Wonder Twins image courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, August 2, 2010

Is it Time for DOD to Believe in Biofuels?

Even though the DSB ETF 2008 report (my energy bible) calls fuel availability issues DOD's #1 energy security issue, I've never been able to muster much enthusiasm for alternative fuels. Doesn't seem to matter whether they're synthetic fuels derived from coal or nat gas, or bio fuels born of algae, switch grass, sugar cane or bacon. To date the trade-offs they've required in terms of manufacturing costs, use limitations or low production scale have made them less than interesting. Still, as with other early stage technologies, they're worth keeping an eye on because a big-enough breakthrough could change the game.

Here's Boeing's Billy Glover on how perceptions and expectations have changed each year:
Five years ago, drop-in biofuel for aviation was impossible. Four years ago it was unlikely. Three years ago we thought 'maybe there's something here', but now we've got through most of the technical barriers. We are really ahead of where anybody could have predicted.
Military and now commercial aircraft engines are being certified to run on things other than pure jet fuel, and the nascent industry seems set to ... uh ... well ... take off.

Here's a start up example, Accelergy, that's working with DOD right now and has a process that it claims can beat the energy density of petroleum (can anything do that?). According to CEO Tom Vail:
Our target is the section 526 regulations, which require 80 percent of the emissions, that is 20 percent below petroleum. Our initial work is with the Air Force. We are one of only a few that can produce 100 percent synthetic fuels that can reach that 80 percent threshold– and have a 30 percent better energy density than petroleum derived fuels.
Will this stuff mature to the point where it really does provide a significant portion of the Air Force's or Army's or Navy's fuel supply? Despite all the promise, and promises, it's still too early to tell.  But it does feel like we're past the first and second hype cycles and perhaps now drawing closer to something real. Click here and here for more info.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson at