Saturday, December 29, 2012

DOD Top Energy Issues 2013

Reliable, affordable and uninterrupted supply of energy to run the American war machine is crucial for ensuring mission capabilities and effectiveness of the US military. Therefore, incorporating energy security considerations at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels is imperative.

In Its Top Issues 2012, the National Defense Industrial Association places “Promote Energy Security While Reducing Costs” as the most important challenge for the defense industry.
“The past decade has witnessed a transformation of philosophy within the military for energy security and reliability. The change emerged internally and pragmatically from field commanders’ needs for combat effectiveness, a reliable supply of fuels and force protection.. Each service has embraced and fielded innovative renewable and alternative energy production technologies, and has invested resources to find and apply energy efficiencies in infrastructure and standard practices..” 
 
Efforts of the Department of Defense have had plenty of media coverage: Recent examples include: Aljazeera TV channel news piece on the US military love with alternative energy sources, Army Scientists Improve Garbage-to-energy Prototype, Affordable Naval biofuel: First comes the feedstock, etc.
 
The concern of the US military is twofold: electrical grid security and oil supply security. In other words, vulnerabilities in both the liquid fuels for operational use as well as the grid that supplies electrical power at installations both domestically and overseas. Progress so far on those issues has showed its good, bad and ugly sides.
 
It is true that much has been done to assure military energy security but as the NDIA mentions “Nonetheless, some critical work to achieving energy security remains to be done.”
·         Utilizing Nuclear Power Technology (small modular reactors).
·         Open the Door to Cost-Effective Section 526 Opportunities (Section 526 of The Energy Independence and Security Act of prevents federal agencies from contracting to purchase liquid coal and other “dirty fuels,” such as  tar sands and oil shale, that produce more global warming pollution than conventional gasoline. NDIA supports DoD’s efforts that will lead to cost-effective biofuel alternatives to traditional fuels in the coming decade without overlooking other paths to achieve performance engineered fuels to meet military requirements.
·         Energy efficiency must be given prevalent consideration throughout the entire acquisition process from the analysis of  alternatives to production and life cycle sustainment, and be part of the DoD lexicon considered by everyone—developers through the soldier-- that ultimately uses the system.
 
For oil supply security the DOD services have aggressively promoted biofuels. But as the June 2012 issue of the Air Force Magazine questions it neatly what if the US need for oil simply fades away. In the last six years, overall US imports fell by 33 percent. Foreign oil, 60 percent of US usage in 2005, is now 45 percent. New forecasts project imports will decline or flatten out for another two decades.
 
In their article entitled “The Folly of Energy Independence”, Gal Luft and Anne Korin rightly state that the problem is not about supply but about price.  They say that a country can reduce oil imports but end up paying a much higher oil import bill. This is the reason why US foreign oil expenditures almost equaled the defense budget. The inability to keep the price of oil at bay, not the volume of imports, is the crux of America’s vulnerability. In another version of that article Gal Luft repeats what every person in oil business knows “The reason is that oil is a fungible commodity whose price is being determined in the world market on a minute-by-minute basis. A price of a barrel of oil is more or less equal to every consumer, and when the price spikes, it does so for everyone regardless of where their supply comes from.” This is why the move towards greater self-sufficiency does not necessarily lead to cheaper oil prices. 
 
 As Admiral (ret) Gary Roughead and the other authors of the Hoover Institution’s Powering the Armed Sources report lay out the DoD’s focus should be on strategic needs, not arbitrary numerical targets. When it comes to developing and commercializing energy products, the military should be concerned only with immediate and critical needs.
 
 As for electricity supply security the progress has good, bad and ugly sides as well. Reliance on sun and wind in the name of electricity supply security is one of the ugly sides.
 
Therefore my recommendation to DOD is to have the following Top Issues for 2013 into consideration:
1.      Development and deployment of small nuclear reactors for installation electricity security
2.      Prioritizing gas to liquid and coal to liquid technologies rather than biofuels
3.      Bringing operational energy and installation energy management under one umbrella
4.      Moving to Jet-A1 and slowly reducing the single battle fuel concept
5.      Paying more attention to energy culture and behavior change
6.      Promoting efficient use of energy and energy conservation (in other words eliminating the wasteful use of energy) more than energy efficiency
7.      Achieving a functioning energy data and cost management
8.      Reformulating energy acquisitions by taking energy into account
9.      Revisiting Spartan efforts by adding Spartan conditions into the equation (for Navy and Marines)
10.  Educating senior DOD officials on energy and especially functioning of oil markets.
 
I wish you all a healthy and prosperous new year!

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