OSD Official: More Innovation Needed to Meet Energy Demands
NEW ORLEANS — Defense Department goals to reduce energy demand have proved to be more difficult to achieve that previously thought. Growing demand for fuel and other forms of power in combat zones are among the culprits, officials said.
The Pentagon is now focusing on two programs, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, to spark innovation in green projects, said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.
“The technology that exists today will only get us part of the way there,” Robyn said May 10 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual energy symposium. The SERDP initiative is a partnership between the Defense Department and Environmental Protection Agency to invest in basic and applied research, as well as advanced development. The ESTCP essentially offers a test bed for the technologies that come out of such efforts. The lack of operational testing on new products often deters those who need them and otherwise would adopt them, Robyn said. The certification program allows these technologies to be field tested on military installations. Robyn is seeking $30 million for the program in fiscal year 2012.
The certification program’s focus areas include weapons systems, water, resource conservation and climate change. For 2012, potential projects include work with smart micro-grids and renewable energy and much of the solicitations received involve the Army, Robyn said.
Efforts to increase efficiency already are underway at installations across the country, which spent a total of $4 billion on energy in 2010, just a quarter of the Defense Department’s total energy costs. However, home bases are likely to increase their power usage as more troops return home from war zones, Robyn said, and some of those bases are trying to get ahead of the curve.
A few privatized family housing developments, including one at Davis-Monthan Air Force base, Ariz., are making use of solar photovoltaic panels on thousands of roofs. There is also an effort to develop sensors that ensure that military buildings, many of which are historic, are constantly operating at their most efficient levels. At Fort Bliss, Tex., they are working with micro-grids, self-generating power sources with smart controls that continue operating when the main grid goes down. Smart grids eventually will change the industry of utilities, Robyn said. They also help users keep tabs on their energy consumption, a practice that is either nonexistent or unorganized across the more than 530,000 military facilities, she said.
The Pentagon needs an enterprise-wide energy information management system to monitor and measure consumption, Robyn said. “You can’t manage what you’re not measuring,” said Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy. The Air Force is the largest user of energy in the Defense Department. Aviation accounts for nearly all of the service’s consumption. And while the Air Force has gradually been decreasing its use since 2003, the cost of fuel and other needs has gone up, leading to an even greater emphasis on green practices, Geiss said. These include reducing the weight of aircraft and cruising them at lower speeds. For instance, the service has lowered the maximum cruise speed for its workhorse cargo platform, the C-17, from Mach .76 to .72. It doesn’t sound like much, but it will save the Air Force about $2 million over the course of a year, Geiss said. The tradeoff, he added, is that we “get there a minute later.”
The Air Force also is switching to a more fuel efficient training aircraft, the T-6 Texan. It will save about 19 million gallons of fuel over the course of year, Geiss said. The service is looking at new engines, wings and other technologies that will improve efficiency. These efforts include the increased use of alternative fuels. Only two Air Force platforms, the CV-22 Osprey and the MQ-9 Reaper drone, are not certified to conduct operations on a 50-50 blend of synthetic and traditional jet fuel. The rest are can perform unrestricted operations on that blend, Geiss said. Even the Thunderbirds plan to perform on biofuels next week at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. “We’re ready,” Geiss said. “We’re waiting for industry” to develop more of the renewable fuel. In a couple of years, the Air Force will be ready to buy large quantities, he said.