Wednesday, July 20, 2011

USA/USAF Energy Forum, Day 0.5: Leadership, Technology and Empty Barrels

The first day of the first bi-Service Energy Forum is in the books and it was an impressive first. That the Army and Air Force where able to coordinate schedules and allow hundreds of government, industry, academic and media bubbas to assemble, mingle and learn was a first. As Dr. Kevin Geiss , Air Force Deputy Assistant Sec for Energy pointed out, by holding a joint conference, they eliminated one set of air travel, hotel bills and conference fees (not to mention bar bills), allowing us all to stretch our budgets, reduce our travel related GHG footprint and juxtapose Service agendas. The downside was an agenda so packed with simultaneous breakout sessions that it became almost impossible to choose where to be. That being said, themes began to emerge quickly.

After opening remarks by respective Assistant Secs for installations, energy, environment, logistics and what have you , the first plenary session kicked off with the White House Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Under Secs from the Air Force and Army extolling the virtues of DOD involvement in energy security. “DOD has a history of leadership, DOD helps get technology launched, DOD can get it done” was the chorus and all were singing. The first sour note began to creep in when Mr. Westphal (Army) let slip that, oh, by the way, we don’t have any big money to do this and it is going to get tougher. You could hear the collective sucking of teeth by all the industry folks. Of course this is really not news. All of the government folks have been telling us that they cannot achieve their lofty goals without third party involvement and their industry partners. Still, many of the folks who were there hoping to dig into the supposed barrels of DOD money for energy, were shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover the barrel is bare.

This was followed by the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu. Dr. Chu is the funniest, Nobel Prize winning, experimental physicist I know. At one point, when describing the Energy Innovation Hub concept, he said that while working in a previous job a couple of years ago, he had tried to get DOE interested in the concept, with little luck. “The current administration has been more receptive to my ideas.” And then he told us, that that was the joke. We laughed. Sometimes we forget that Nobel Prize winners who have done remarkable work on cooling lasers and have the vision to predict a glucose based economy (vice carbon) are just plain folks. I am seriously in awe of this man and his ideas. I would also like to have a beer with him.

Dr. Chu went on to discuss the multitude of projects in which DOE is engaged, many in support of DOD. He reminded the audience that DOE has an extensive history in working with explosives (see Manhattan Project) and is helping DOD look at IED resistant vehicles. SecEn went on to talk about what DOD could do to its 2.2 BILLION square feet of buildings to reduce their energy impact and closed by showing where other nations ranked in developing Clean Energy for Security and Prosperity as a percentage of their GDP. For a guy with such awesome technology at his finger tips, you would have thought he could have come up with a slide format that would have allowed him to show where the U.S. ranked on that scale. Unfortunately he could only list the top sixteen countries. What do China and Brazil know that we don’t?

I will break here so that Andy Bochman doesn’t yell at me for writing another book instead of a blog, but lots more to follow on the themes of DOD leadership, technical innovation and bare bank account. Tomorrow will have observations on the first day breakout panels and the most impressive presentation of the day. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t from DOD.

For all of you who came up to me and expressed your appreciation for what Andy and I have tried to do in this space, thank you. As much as I pick at DOD on energy, it is only because I am impatient. We are the nation that electrified the world in the first half of the last century and computerized it in the second half. What should we be doing in the first half of this century? Ask Dr. Chu. He will tell you we should be developing Clean Energy for Security and Prosperity. Hear, Hear. Dan Nolan

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