Boeing Executive: Government Must Pony Up Money for Energy Efforts, Smart Grids
NEW ORLEANS — It is widely agreed that military energy efforts need more funding. But while Pentagon officials call for greater private-sector investment, industry leaders say they are waiting for the government to also prove it will commit resources to green programs for the long run.
“This reticence by government to finance large-scale energy projects has created a funding vacuum that is dependent upon the private sector to make sizable investments in a market that has not enjoyed overwhelming support,” said Paul “Bo” Bollinger, general manager of government solutions at The Boeing Co.’s energy division.
Modernizing the electric grid is a case in point. Beyond policy impediments, there are the technological challenges associated with 160,000 miles of transmission lines covering the country’s antiquated electric grid, Bollinger said May 10 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual energy symposium.
There are more than 3,200 power-producing utilities governed by commissions and state laws that can severely limit the amount of renewable energy that can be independently produced and consumed, he added. Even if government and industry agree that the technological tools exist to achieve energy security, Bollinger said, “where will the estimated $1.4 trillion required to upgrade the nation’s transmission system come from in this economic environment?”
Today’s energy debate is not new or unique, Bollinger said. “President Obama and every president before him starting with President Nixon has proposed a national energy policy to move the country away from its addiction to oil and toward energy independence.” Little has changed despite these efforts, he said.
A smart electric grid -- a web of hundreds or thousands of interconnected micro-grids -- could revolutionize the way Americans, including the military, use energy, Bollinger said. Standards must be developed to ensure capability and a level of security to protect the grid from hackers, terrorists and natural disasters. A smart grid would allow consumers to monitor their usage and “power up or power down based on their unique needs and to save money,” he said.
“For government customers, specifically the Department of Defense, the first priority is to decrease consumption and increase efficiency on each installation,” Bollinger said. Any micro-grid plan must work with the legacy assets currently used to provide the military’s power.
The Pentagon has shown an interest in micro-grid technology, but there still is no specific funding at the installation level for energy security, Bollinger said. His company has seen its share of success with micro-grid technologies, he said. Boeing outfitted the International Space Station with a solar-powered micro-grid, and many of its features can be adapted to support a similar system on Earth, the executive said. Boeing’s new 787 aircraft also could be seen as a micro-grid, he added. The 737 has two 90-kilowat generators in each engine. The 787 will have two 250-kilowat generators in each engine, as well as an additional 500-kilowat generator.
In addition, Boeing has added smart-grid systems at several company locations, helping to reduce its energy use by 32 percent. Four of the company’s plants also are “net zero” for waste. A new plant in South Carolina will produce as much energy as it uses, Bollinger said.
“The smart grid will revolutionize how the national power grid handles the distribution of energy,” he said. At its best, he added, it could be the tool the United States needs to achieve energy independence.
The military can kick off this revolution, Bollinger said.
“The DoD has the ability to serve as the market initiator for large-scale renewable and clean energy projects,” but it requires the support of everyone from the president to those in uniform. It also requires more investment from the government, he said. The Defense Department is seen as torch-bearer for leading the country to a future of less dependence on foreign oil. As the largest energy consumer, it has a bull's-eye on its back, Bollinger said.