Energy Costs on Bases to Rise as Troops Return

By Stew Magnuson
NEW ORLEANS — More troops returning from overseas operations will mean rising energy costs at their home bases, said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment said May 22.
Most of these facilities are dependent on local electrical grids, which are not seen as secure and reliable in times of emergency, she said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Environment, Energy Security and Sustainability Symposium here. Facility energy costs totaled $4.1 billion in fiscal year 2011.
The services havecommitted to producing 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on their bases by 2025. This will be additional new sources, and not intended to replace already existing energy, she stressed.
The Defense Department sees four strategies that will help installations reach these goals: reducing demand; expanding supply; enhancing security; and leveraging advanced technology, Robyn said.
As far as expanding supply, there has already been a lot of work done in solar, she said. The Defense Department recently made an attempt to figure out just how much potential there was in the field. It studied nine bases in the Southwest to determine how much land was available for solar farms. The conclusion: not as much as one would think.
Despite the region's reputation for year-around sun, the study showed 96 percent of the land was not available. It was being used for operations, the topography was mountainous and not suitable, or there were environmental concerns such as the endangered desert tortoise. In such cases, "he wins," she said of the reptile.
The good news coming out of the study was that the other 4 percent of land could potentially produce 7,000 megawatts of electricity on the bases, she said.
"Renewable energy in and of itself does not get us energy security," she said.
The Defense Department is looking at smart microgrids, more efficient buildings and other strategies to reduce energy usage.
To move ahead with these concepts, the military must do a better job of understanding how much power it is using. It is sometimes difficult to know how much electricity buildings are consuming, she said.
"We do a terrible job of metering our facilities because they are not charged individually" for the amount of energy consumed, she said. A "united facilities criteria" will be released late this year that will spell out standards for new buildings and renovations.
Her office is also partnering with the National Academy of Sciences to study the lifecycle costs and effectiveness of green building standards.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department wants to continue to leverage new technologies to help it reach its energy goals. The U.S. military has some 300,000 buildings and it can serve as a testbed for new concepts. A $30 million per year program is giving funding to small businesses who have good ideas but can't get the data they need to prove they work. The department has 150 years of experience working with cutting edge technologies, Robyn noted.
The program had about 600 proposals the first year, and 27 of them were funded. It has received 475 proposals this year. She singled out the FlexEnergy turbine at Fort Benning, Ga., that is converting methane gas from an old landfill into electricity as a promising project.(See story here)
Other funded projects include electrochromatic windows that tint and lighten up depending on how much sunlight is hitting a building and a nanotechnology-based membrane that removes humidity from the air without needing a cooling system. Both could result in a building requiring a smaller, less expensive to run cooling system, but until the data on the effectiveness of the systems are out there, construction engineers and building designers would not risk installing a more efficient chiller, she said.
One action that could help reduce energy consumption is two more rounds of Base Realignment and Closures in 2013 and 2015, better known as BRACs. That position has made her a "piñata" in Capitol Hill hearings, she admitted.
"We can't reduce force structure to the degree we have to under budget constraints and not close military bases," she said. That request was turned down in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed last week.
On the separate subject of climate change, Robyn said her office is studying the impact of rising sea levels and extreme weather on military installations to see which ones may be vulnerable over the next century. One-third of bases and facilities are within 20 miles of a shoreline, she said.
"We are looking at the risk to critical infrastructure and mission performance under a prescribed series of sea level scenarios" ranging from a half meter to two meters over the course of the next century, she said. The goal is to translate the science into usable information for installation managers so they don't have to go out and figure out the scenarios themselves, she said.

Topics: Energy, Alternative Energy, Energy Security, Power Sources

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