Plug-In Vehicles Could Generate Revenue for the Military
By Valerie Insinna
The phrase, “You have to spend money to make money” may be more than just a cliché for the Air Force, which plans to spend $20 million on a new fleet of electric vehicles that can recuperate their costs by plugging back into the grid.
As many as 500 “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G) cars will be installed in six bases — including those of the Army, Marine Corps and Navy — as part of a pilot program announced in January, said Camron Gorguinpour, special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations.
"If we execute this fully, it will be the largest electrical vehicle acquisition for a federal fleet that has ever been conducted,” he said at a March 19 roundtable in Washington, D.C on the military’s energy-saving initiatives. “It will certainly be the largest vehicle-to-grid demonstration that has ever been conducted in the world."
A car battery normally functions only during the time the vehicle is being driven, about 3 to 5 percent of its useful life, Gorguinpour said. The idea behind V2G is that an owner of an electric car can generate revenue by plugging the car into the power grid when it’s not in use, allowing the grid to use the car’s battery power for certain applications.
For example, a Nissan Leaf can earn more than $200 a month in southern California’s energy market. "You can lease a Nissan Leaf for $199 a month, so at a certain point it becomes a revenue generating proposition above and beyond what you're spending to operate the vehicle," he said.
During this stage of the pilot program, his office will set up full V2G systems on each of the six bases to demonstrate the technology. The program will also have to prove that V2G vehicles can fit into operations and be financially viable during a budget crunch, Gorguinpour said.
If successful, the program will ramp up to 1,500 vehicles across 30 bases, he said. After that, V2G technologies could become a normal part of future vehicle procurement. Gorguinpour will be looking to industry to construct charging stations and integrate software that will manage the fleet.
"You actually have to be sure that all of these things talk to each other effectively,” Gorguinpour said. “That's sort of the stage that we're in right now, identifying a set of vendors that can provide an integrated solution without totally breaking our budget. We're confident that we'll be able to find that solution, but it is taking some time."
The Air Force has already contracted with Concurrent Technologies Corp. to choose the first vehicles for the fleet.
The six bases chosen for the pilot program are: Los Angeles Air Force Base and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Fort Hood Army Base, Texas; Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix, Lakehurst, N.J.
Los Angeles Air Force Base will kick off the program and will be the only one to replace its entire fleet with electric vehicles, Gorguinpour said.
The amount of fuel cars driven on or near bases is a drop in the bucket compared to what the Air Force uses to keep its aircraft flying. The service is the single largest energy consumer in the federal government, but it is making headway in cutting its consumption.
The service announced on March 21 that it lowered its aviation fuel consumption by 12 percent, meeting its 10 percent reduction goal three years ahead of schedule.
It spent $9 billion on energy in 2012, about 85 percent of which went toward aviation fuel. That’s 8 percent of the Air Force’s total budget and as much as it spends on space activities such as communications satellite operations, said acting Under Secretary of the Air Force Jamie M. Morin.
“If we were still consuming aviation fuel and energy at the 2006 baseline rate, our energy bill for 2012 would have been $1.5 billion higher,” Morin said. “In this fiscal environment, paying that bill would have been enormously hard.”
The Air Force also put forward a new strategic energy plan that is more focused on overall energy efficiency rather than setting specific consumption goals.
“We know we may not be able to control exactly how much we fly, but we can control how much fuel we use for each amount of flying we do,” Morin said.
For instance, sequestration will cause lower aviation fuel usage because there will be fewer flights, Morin said. “This is a case where focusing solely on consumption is misleading. We're not energy efficient, we're just using less energy because we're doing less stuff for the country."
Photo Credit: Thinkstock, Air Force