Friday, October 28, 2011

US military on frontline of energy strategy to save money and lives

President Barack Obama may be losing his argument for clean energy in Congress, but he has already won hearts and minds in the US military which is rapidly reducing its carbon bootprint from the barracks to the battlefield.
Major General Anthony Jackson spoke earlier this month of the importance of removing "the vice-like grip of oil from our necks" at a Pew Charitable Trusts forum to promote its new report on energy security at Stanford University.
The Department of Defense is the world's largest single consumer of energy, guzzling 300,000 barrels of oil a day. The US military consumed as much energy as Nigeria, according to this Post-Carbon Institute Energy Bulletin from 2007.
But in the past four years, DoD clean energy investments in biofuels, solar technology and advanced batteries have increased 200%, from $400m to $1.2bn. And the military is likely to clean up its operations even further.
Last year the DoD launched Energy for the Warfighter: Operational Energy Strategy "to ensure that the armed forces will have the energy resources they require to meet 21st century challenges". 
“Lightening the load” for those with boots on the ground, reducing energy demand and dependence on foreign oil are they key goals.
Batteries account for around 20% of the weight of a soldier's pack and a typical infantry battalion uses $150,000 worth of batteries a year, says the Warfighter report.
On the podium at Stanford, Maj Gen Jackson unfolded a sheet of PV panels that packs down to the size of a slim laptop case and can be used to recharge equipment.
Meanwhile, reducing energy costs are critical. In 2010, the DoD consumed nearly 5 billion gallons of petroleum in military operations, at a cost of $13.2bn an increase of 255% over 1997 prices.
But more importantly was the cost to lives at the frontline, said Maj Gen Jackson
In 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total of more than 3,000 Army personnel and contractors were wounded or killed in action from attacks on fuel and water resupply convoys.
He said: "I know the cost of [oil]. I know it up close and personal if you have never seen the mixture of blood and sand it's a harsh purple on the desert floor.
"There is an urgent need for our nation to lead the world in renewables and conservation and getting a grip on the strategic vice that one three letter word has around our neck. For every 50 trucks we put on the road someone is killed or loses a limb."
US Navy secretary Ray Mabus said something similar at the National Clean Energy Conference in August.
"We buy too much fossil fuel energy from potentially or already volatile places on earth. We give those countries a say on whether those aircraft fly or ships sail or round vehicle operate. There are great strategic reasons for moving away from fossil fuels.
"Every time the cost of a barrel of oil goes up by a dollar it costs the US navy $31m in extra fuel costs. When the Libya crisis began the navy faced a fuel bill increase of over $1.5bn.
"We import gas and water into Afghanistan more than anything. For every 50 convoys of gas we lose one marine – that is too high a price to pay for fuel."
He said that the Navy aimed to cut its dependence on oil for its aircraft and seacraft by 50% by investing in advanced biofuels, of the sort that cleantech startups like Solazyme produce. The US Navy's fleet of aircraft now all been tested with biofuels dropped in.
Despite the military's plans to develop "greener" tanks with BAE Systems, Jackson admitted that he would still drive his Corvette, because "compared to an Abrams tank which does .8mpg, I don't feel too bad."
Jackson, who commands marine installations on the western United States, said energy demand had already been cut by 37% in response to a 50% target by 2030. "We'll be there by 2015. It's not going to be anything for us," he said.
A metering pilot showed soldiers on base how much electricity they were using - if they used more than their neighbours, they'd get a bill, if they used less they'd get a cheque. This reduced energy demand by 30-40%, he said.
He also mentioned that one civilian employee had started to sell tin, aluminim cardboard on a commodities exchange - the proceeds of which now covers the costs of libraries and other facilities.
The Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Pendleton in California was the first LEED Platinum Certified building.
The Marine Corps had also installed solar panels and a 1.5MW wind turbine that provides 40% - 50% of the electricity at a barracks in Barstow, southern California, said Jackson. He wants to put another 1.5MW wind turbine at Barstow, but Southern California Edison hadn't worked out a way to "absorb" excess electricity into the grid.
"The utility companies have not yet learned to absorb what we're doing in renewables so I have to hold off until Southern California Edison figures [it]. It will not only cover the needs of the base but it will put back into the grid. We're ready to make this base net zero so we're negotiating."
Maybe Jackson would like to join the battle with the California Public Utilities Commission and utilities over decent feed in tariffs. Reading this UC Berkeley study on the economic (energy security?) benefits, should get Jackson off to a good start.
Jackson and Mabus may be acting on orders from their commander in chief, but they have certainly taken up this mission with great enthusiasm. Jackson said that when he once testified in front of the California Senate select committee for energy and security he was asked how he got people to meet the clean energy targets. "It's pretty easy senator I just tell them," he said. "Everyone in my command knows my intent."
If only Congress were that easy to command and control for the president. But the president's military powers are impossible to replicate politically. But it's one of the smarter differences between the UK and US political systems.
While Republicans bicker between themselves and with Democrats over spending cuts and the budget deficit, real progress continues by stealth where it can. Aside from Republican assaults on the EPA, powerful binding regulations on CAFE standards were agreed with automakers earlier this year. And in California, the Air Resources Board has exemplified stakeholder rule making and participatory democracy at its best with the development of the state's cap and trade regulations.
Jackson's clean energy mission seems to sit well with him. He said: "We like it when the president comes in and lays it out. We know this is important to the current administration.
But the ripple effect goes beyond what the Obama administration wants. Jackson's wife was not under orders when she insisted on buying a Prius and installing solar PV at home.
There may be an even more powerful effect of the military's campaign to reduce energy demand and dependence on foreign imports.
The impact of the DoD procurement clout on the growth of the semiconductor industry is well documented, and the internet was developed from the military's Arpanet funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the late 1960s.
Today, the DoD's Environmental Security Technology Certification Program aims to demonstrate innovative energy technology and the military appears to be partially filling the void in the absence of policy or direct subsidies such as European-style feed in tariffs to create a sustainable renewable energy industry.

Solazyme already has large contracts with the US military worth $8bn to deliver algal biofuels. Bob Florence, VP of marketing and business development at Solazyme said: "The Navy's investment has been very helpful in scaling us. Thanks to these investments we're moving from an R&D company to a commercial entity. What we're making for the Navy is diesel fuel [like] you'd buy at a commercial pump. The good news is [they] don't see any difference when they run their ships on our fuel. We want to drop in to the existing structure, we don't want to reinvent the whole entire global fuel supply."
Skyline Solar from Mountain View, California, has a $1.58m contract with the DoD to demonstrate its high-gain solar plants at military bases in the south-west.
Lee Burrows, managing director at VantagePoint venture capital fund national energy policy was essential aligning policy with technology goals: "What the military can do is look at a timeframe for tech that is 10 or 15 years out. Elected officials typically have two to four years and corporations have the next earnings call as their timeframe. The critical part here for DoD and DOE is that they are enabling the technology of the future to help the country gain its long-term goals. We need to have a goal set that we can aim at."
While the US military fights a clean energy war, the question remains whether civilians in Congress can deploy an effective strategy to ensure energy security into the future - and to unshackle the "vice" of oil imports from the necks of US consumers and American soldiers on the frontline.

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