Posts tagged “military”
The impacts of budget sequestration are slowly being unveiled to the general public. Furloughs at the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) led to air traffic gridlock and angry travelers. Parks and national tourist sites are cutting back hours. And the Department of Defense (DOD) recently announced furloughs for 680,000 civilian employees. While these short-term impacts are painful, in particular to those losing work hours and income, sequestration is initiating cuts with negative, long-term impacts, which are not yet immediately apparent.
One area of specific concern is the potential $381 million in cuts to energy innovation investments at the DOD – a 25 percent cut compared to FY2012 levels. Since 2009, DOD has invested $5 billion in clean energy research, development, testing, demonstration, and procurement, representing almost 25 percent of U.S. clean energy funding in FY2012. DOD’s focus on clean energy innovation is important for three reasons:
- The DOD has been the source of some of the last century’s most important breakthrough technologies, including the Internet, GPS, and microchips and it could have a similar impact on clean energy technologies like batteries and smart grid;
- The DOD has developed its own cohesive innovation ecosystem that bridges its investments in research to its procurement budget and actual use of new technologies in the battlefield, which allows for accelerated pathways for technology development;
- The DOD budget is typically not politically controversial in comparison to other sources of energy innovation investment like the Department of Energy, assuring consistent funding over time rather than periods of boom and bust.
During the past five years DOD has quickly ramped up its energy innovation investments to address strategic challenges impacting warfighters, such as protecting liquid fuel supply lines and addressing the geopolitical consequences of climate change. But budget sequestration threatens to slow, or even halt, these efforts.
The military has been a leader in the development of biofuels – for good reason. As I’ve written before, the military’s single-source dependence on petroleum for fuel is a strategic vulnerability. Oil has a monopoly on energy supply for 80% of our military’s energy needs, including virtually all of the non-nuclear transportation. To simply accept that oil is going to remain as the sole source of liquid fuel that the US military relies on for its transportation, operations, and training is to say that we should accept the long-term strategic risks of price volatility and dependence upon uncertain foreign countries.
We should remember that, even if the military uses oil solely from the United States and its allies, the price that the Defense Logistics Agency pays for oil is largely set by global market conditions – and saying that those are highly vulnerable to conflict and unrest in the Middle East is an understatement.
Last year, in an attempt to address this threat, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy were authorized under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to support the development of an alternative source of fuel. The funding agreed in a joint memorandum, and appropriated by Congress, each agency will invest $170 million over three years in helping to build a domestic biofuel industry (read more about the DoD’s biofuels policy here). This funding will be matched by investment from the private sector. Over the past several months, the agencies have been deliberating over which companies will partner with the government.
The Navy’s Biofuels Program
In 2010 I conducted an interview with Tom Hicks, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). During the interview, Tom described the Navy’s efforts in pushing for widespread availability of biofuels for Naval operations. He stated that sourcing alternative energy is a top priority for the Navy, and would enhance its war-fighting capabilities. He said the Navy sees itself in a leadership role in driving a transition to “homegrown, secure, independent sources of fuel.”
The goal, as described by Tom, is for biofuels to make a major contribution toward the fuel needs of the Navy by 2020. The Navy has embarked upon an initiative called the “Great Green Fleet” in which they would deploy a strike group on all alternative fuels by 2016. By 2020, the goal is for 50% of all of the Navy’s energy consumption to come from alternative sources. In pursuit of this initiative, the Navy is doing research, and testing and certifying all of their engines on renewable fuels. CONTINUE»
Scale of the Global Oil Market
The RAND corporation recently released a report “Promoting International Energy Security” for the U.S. Air Force that, for the most part, contained the conventional wisdom about oil prices and energy security: in a global marketplace, there is little that one buyer can do to affect prices. The report then went on to state the importance of the US military in maintaining international trade routes and supporting energy infrastructure security around the world. On the whole, it was an anodyne report from a government contractor to its client that generally would have quietly been filed away.
However, the report did have one section that dove directly into a simmering area of contention: the Department of Defense’s investment in a domestic biofuels industry. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have rejected the Department of Defense’s plans to purchase biofuels and to directly invest in domestic biofuels producers. The Senate will likely consider an amendment on the floor to attempt to reinstate the program in July. The specialist media quickly reported the controversial provisions, saying “Renewables no fix for U.S. military fuel woes” (Reuters) and “Alt fuels won’t solve military energy problems” (Greenwire).
The recent debate over the role of the military in investing in renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency and conservation programs and alternative biofuels has included many voices that sometimes conflate the linked but distinct efforts by defense officials to address energy concerns. The rationale behind the military’s energy programs can be broken down into two efforts:
- Adapting to operational energy requirements and security challenges in Afghanistan and other combat theatres;
- Hedging against future uncertainty in the global petroleum market.
Adapting to Operational Energy Challenges
Military leaders have become increasingly worried about operational energy challenges in Afghanistan and other theatres where U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen are deployed and are working to reduce the demand for energy that must be transported across volatile terrain.
To date, part of the military’s effort to reduce operational energy requirements includes:
- prioritizing energy efficiency in the acquisitions process for new combat platforms;
- fielding micro-grid technology to more efficiently manage traditional power distribution systems that waste energy;
- replacing — where possible — diesel-fuelled generators with solar panels and other renewable energy sources;
- equipping soldiers with advanced batteries that stay charged longer to help keep them in the fight;
- and increasing awareness among all U.S. military personnel about energy use to help promote conservation practices.
There are clear operational advantages to reducing the fuel required by military personnel in theater. In particular, reducing fuel consumption also curbs the demand for petroleum that has to be trucked across dangerous territory where the fuel and the soldiers and contractors transporting it are vulnerable to insurgent attack.
The just-issued RAND report Alternative Fuels for Military Applications has generated quite a bit of controversy. However, in my opinion many of the news stories covering the report got the gist of the message wrong. In essence, what has been reported is “RAND Says Biofuels are Bunk.” In fact, many in the renewable energy industry have responded as if they are under attack. Biofuels Digest published comments from several in the renewable fuels industry. Some excerpts from those comments: Will Thurmond, CEO, Emerging Markets Online Is it simply a coincidence that RAND’s study on alternative fuels for the military, the “Clean Coal” Coalition’s advertising campaign, and the State of the Union address were released on the same day? In contrast… Continue»
In my recent interview with Tom Hicks, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy), he explained some of the Navy’s energy initiatives. One of those is to sail the “Great Green Fleet.” The goal is that in 2012 they will put a carrier strike group in local operations entirely on alternative fuels and then in 2016 they plan to deploy that strike group on all alternative fuels. By 2020, the goal is that 50% of all of the Navy’s energy consumption will come from alternative sources. The reasons for these goals are obvious. The U.S. Department of Defense consumes more oil than any other organization in the world, and most of that oil comes from other countries…. Continue»
Here are my choices for the Top 10 energy related stories of 2010. I can’t remember having such a difficult time squeezing this list down to 10 stories, because there were many important energy stories for 2010. It was hard to cut some of them from the Top 10; so hard that I almost did a Top 15. But I made some difficult choices, and offer my views on the 10 most important energy stories of 2010. Previously I listed a link to Platt’s survey of the Top 10 oil stories of 2010, but my list covers more than just oil. Reviewing my list of Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2009, I see that I made three predictions. Those… Continue»
This is the concluding installment of my recent interview with Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). Part I discussed the overall goals of the Navy’s biofuel efforts, and in Part II we covered why coal-to-liquids (CTL) is presently off-limits, and why GTL may be as well. Part III picks up with the human cost of moving fuel into the theater of operations. The editor of Consumer Energy Report, Sam Avro, joined me in this interview and our questions below will be denoted as “RR” or “SA”. Mr. Hicks’ responses are “TH”. RR: I saw a recent story that once fuel actually makes it to the theater of operations, it can cost $400 per gallon when all the… Continue»
In Part I of my recent interview with Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy), we covered the nature of what the Navy is trying to achieve (and why) with respect to incorporating renewable energy into their operations. Part II begins with a discussion of why coal-to-liquids (CTL) is presently off-limits, and why GTL may be as well. Incidentally, I mention Shell’s Bintulu GTL facility in Malaysia below. I have just spent my entire morning inside their facility, and will have a report up on that visit next week. The editor of Consumer Energy Report, Sam Avro, joined me in this interview and our questions below will be denoted as “RR” or “SA”. Mr. Hicks’ responses are “TH”…. Continue»