Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Always Sunny in D.C.: Reflections on Tough Duty in DOD Energy

Just returned from a Military Smart MicroGrid Conference in D.C. that once and for all settled on the fifteen acceptable definitions for a smart microgid. What a relief that is! In essence, a smart microgrid is smaller than a minigrid and bigger than a nanogird (right, Dr. Cross?). It can accept any kind of power (DC, AC, Super), store it, and dispatch it instantaneously, independent of the commercial grid, while being omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent. With briefings from every branch of the Federal Government, except the Post Office, the discussions were far ranging, sometimes frustrating but always educational.

The current major player on the block for DOD is, of course, SPIDERS, one of fortyeleven MG projects ongoing for the Department. The project manager (technical), Harold Sanborn attended, but did not speak. Since he is standing by to accept a deluge of proposals for Phase 1 he had to attend the conference wearing a gag as stipulated by FAR 100X02.z24.$$. But I could still see him smiling behind the gag.

I have been critical of many of the Department’s efforts in energy purely because it has just not been fast enough to satisfy me. I reflected on this after I went up to speak with ASD, OEPP Sharon Burke following her excellent presentation and she asked me if I was going to punch her. It kinda hurt my heart. So I would like to write a love note to all the DOD energy bubbas and bubbettes I have abused this past year.

To all of you who have taken on the thankless job of attempting to transform the most intransigent and prolific energy user in the nation: Thank You. What you do on a daily basis has the potential for transforming the Nation and resolving one of the four great challenges Tom Friedman and Micheal Mandelbaum enumerated in their excellent book, “That Use to be Us”. If you haven’t read it, get it, read it and then we will discuss.

DOD is the ultimate camel maker. We asked for a horse, they went into committee and we got a camel. If we were asking for a speedy steed that could win the Derby, we are disappointed. But if we wanted a beast of burden that could carry a heavy load with great efficiency, we are happy. As we watch the various products come out of OSD and the Joint world, we (I) have to accept that it will always be product of compromise. Whether it is a strategy or a less than optimal RFP, it is what can make it out of committee. Compared with what is coming out of the Legislature these days, the OSD energy crews are craftsmen.

Now don’t worry. This does not mean I will not return to being my crotchety old self. Andy Rooney retired, I did not. I am still going to call them the way I see them. If it is a low velocity marshmallow, I will say so. Just wanted our government readers to know that I do appreciate how hard the work is and how, sometime, you have to make it look like someone else’s idea. Thanks, Harold for always having a smile on your face and thanks, Ms Burke, for the herculean task that you take on daily without ever letting them see you sweat. The picture above is her visiting troops in Bagram. When she talk about visiting our wounded heroes at Landstuhl, you can hear the passion for what she does in her voice.

OK, everyone back on your heads! IDGA 3rd Annual Alternative Energy for Defense next week in DC. Be there! Dan Nolan


Brian Smith said...

very entertaining. This highlights a huge problem, which is that DoD, at times, seems more interested in running HUGE programs--and the conferences, funding, and reports that flow from them--than actually SOLVING problems. Take micro grids: These efforts most recently started in 2006 in order to reduce electricity consumption at FOBs. It their most simple form, micro grids could augment diesel-generated electricity at FOBs by dumping solar into the hastily constructed grids there. Adding renewables, or reducing demand (e.g., spray foam insulation), was a critical need.

This need has never been fully satisfied. Initially financing in the form of $30,000,000 from the Energy Security Task Force to RDECOM was wasted on HiPower. Secondary efforts in the form of the "Net Zero Plus JCTD" were under financed by OSD and over billed by CENTCOM (so they could finance unnecessary labor costs). If anyone can assure that SPIDERS products proliferate, it is Harold Sanborn, but he's got a big fight ahead of him in the form of a bureaucracy that is seemingly incapable of solving critical challenges.

It begs a question: What are Ms. Burke's actual priorities--things that get DONE before she leaves. Not about papers written, or conferences attended, or new organizations completed. But actual, serious, real products that are deployable, sustainable, cost effective, and make DoD more energy secure.

Green Mountain Realty said...

I am so happy that our focus is finally on energy these days.

Green Mountain Realty said...

I am so happy that our focus is finally on energy these days.