Monday, July 25, 2011

ARPA-E, Industry and DOD Energy Leadership: Who leads, who follows?

As a follow up to the last post on the Army/Air Force Energy Forum, after Secretary Chu spoke we heard from other DOD luminaries, high ranking government officials and industry leaders. Again, the themes of “ DOD is vulnerable due to energy insecurity; DOD has a history of technology leadership; DOD helps get technology economically launched; DOD can get it done”. At one point former Senator John Warner, thumped the podium and declared, “DOD Must Lead!”.

For me the highlight of the conference was the very refreshing talk by Dr. Arun Majumdar, Director, Advance Research Projects Agency –Energy (ARPA-E). Their mission statement is much too long to quote here, but , it uses words like “freshness”, “out of the box” and “nibble and sparse” without a hint of self-consciousness. Dr. Majumdar’s presentation focused on some very cool and critically essential projects, all of which had great acronyms like BEEST, IMPACCT, GRIDS, etc. ARPA-E is assuming the mantle of pushing the technology boundaries in a very focused manner on energy. His matter of fact approach to describing things like microorganisms that convert CO2 into liquid fuels had the effect of generating excitement for bugs that crap oil! The good Doctor conceded that not all or, for that matter, many of these projects would bear fruit, but that was their mission: to go where industry might not go. Of course, where is industry going?

I won’t go into all the breakout session I attended, but will give you some general impressions. Other than the DOE discussions, the only piece of new information I gathered was that the Program Manager, Ground Soldier sent some solar panels and fuel cells along with the Iron Rangers of the 1-16th Infantry Battalion to Afghanistan. Apparently this happened back in January while I wasn’t paying attention. Why the PM, Ground Soldier planned, financed and executed this rather than PM, Mobile Electric Power was not adequately explained. Other than that, it was mostly a recitation of why energy security is important to DOD, promises that “the plan is coming” and great recruiting by the Marine Corps (excellent video, Brutus). Not much new ground was plowed.

Industry was there in force and led several moderated panels. The list is informative:

  • Mr. Scott Sklar, President Stella Group, LTD
  • Mr. Paul Bollinger, General Manager Government Solutions, Boeing Energy (former DASA, Energy and Privatization)
  • Mr. Alex Beehler, President of Alex A. Beehler & Co., LL (former Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations & Environment)
  • Mr. Mike Aimone, Battelle Memorial Institute, (former Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installations and Mission Support, HQ USAF)
  • Mr. Kevin Billings, Lockheed Martin, (former Acting Assistant Secretary of the United States Air Force for Installations, Environment & Logistics)
  • Mr. Marc Gottschalk, Proterra

It was nice to see so many friends and members of the former DOD energy regime. Many of the listed folks all a hand in writing energy plans, policies and programs for years in DOD. They were the giants upon whose shoulders the new regime should have stood to advance “The Plan”. The clock is ticking towards achieving the goals and mandates for energy. The DOD Operational Energy Plan was published on 14 June 2011 with the promise that the Implementation Plan would follow in ninety days. 15 September 2011 is a much awaited day. Industry is standing by for action. Installation energy is still an open question. Who is responsible, what are the authorities and how will accountability be kept? If this is going to be done with public/private partnership, the public side must answer those questions. Dan Nolan

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