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The Military Imperative to Think About Climate and Energy in a Systems-of-Systems Manner

March 10th, 2011 · 5 Comments

In March 2010, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and John Hopkins University-Advanced Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL) held a joint conference Climate & Energy: Imperatives for Future Naval Forces. In many ways, this was a rich conference (proceedings here). For example:

  • Dr. Jay Gulledge of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change spoke eloquently and powerfully about how focusing on ‘averages’ of relatively conservative (and optimistic) projections about climate impacts is a mistaken approach to understanding risk (from climate change).  Jay’s talk merits attention.
  • Commander (Dr) Steve Cole, Australian Navy, spoke on Climate Change Implications for the Royal Australian Navy. Among other things, Cole pointed to the complex problems for the Australian Navy in planning for and investing in climate adaptation. For example, he noted that “The first example of sea-level-rise impact will be through storm
    water drainage-type systems, which require a head to allow the
    water to flow.”

I served on the synthesis panel for this conference and this post is a corrected version of my comments published in the conference proceedings.

Note that JHU-APL/CNA will be holding a follow-on conference in several weeks entitled Adapting to Climate and Energy Challenges: Options for U.S. Maritime Forces.

As a synthesis speaker at the tail end of this two day event, I’d like to focus in several arenas:

  • The need to examine costs and benefits in a systems-of-systems manner.
  • How we must think differently – and seriously — about risk.
  • Thoughts about arenas meriting study.
  • What was/is this conference about? What might make sense for another/future event? 

The need to think about costs and benefits in a systems-of-systems fashion


One of the things I’ve been mulling over is, how do we start thinking about climate and energy issues and integrating them in a system-of-systems fashion? To help us head in that direction, I am going to identify some specific issues that I think need more attention.


The first is, how do we start understanding the full values and costs related to energy and climate issues, from both a quantitative and a qualitative perspective?


To see what I mean here, let’s look in more detail at what it means to insulate the tents used to house our Marines in Iraq. We’ve heard that by doing so, we’ll use less fuel in the generators and by doing so free up Marines for patrols.


Before the tents were insulated, the air conditioners had a hard time “cooling” a tent from 130°F down to 100°F. Once the tent was insulated, they had no problem getting it down to 70°F.


Think about what that means to the Marine who is deployed for 6 months or a year. By being able to sleep in a tent at 80°F every night as opposed to 100°F, what do you think that will do to his (or her)  operational effectiveness when he needs to go out on patrol? That is a value that needs to be understood and discussed. It goes beyond the value of having fewer Marines escorting convoys. It is not just that the Marines will need fewer fuel tankers, and it is not just that the Marines will be easier to deploy because they’ll have fewer generators and fewer tankers.


There is yet another thing to consider. I remember being deployed in Haiti and living in the tents. All of the generators were parked right next to the tents, and the fumes from those generators would blow into tents. The people in the tents were coughing, feeling sick, and having headaches. Imagine that we are using 10% less fuel because of efficiency measures and cutting it down further by using renewable. How much quieter is it? And, how is the volume of noxious fumes affected? We clearly receive operational effectiveness now, but are not there long-term costs and benefits that we should consider? What is the impact on the long-term health care costs for the personnel involved?


What might the impact be on the local economy if we can reduce deployed forces’ demand for electricity?  According to one analysis, about 11% of the diesel fuel that we move around in Iraq is used to generate electricity to run our bases. My understanding is that the amount needed in Afghanistan is several times larger. If we can cut a significant portion of that away, we’ll need to send fewer fuel trucks over the Khyber Pass. Will that make things easier for Afghanistan’s civilian economy because they will now have less competition getting through the border or using the limited road space in that remote country?


We need to be thinking in a more system-oriented fashion.


We need to understand that it is not just about money, but it is also about operational capabilities.


We need to be thinking about capability, capability, capability.


When you hear discussions about greening buildings, most of the conversation is about saved utilities which looks at the issue in quite stove-piped ways. But greening also has a significant impact on worker productivity; the building is quieter, the temperature more comfortable, and the air cleaner.  Gains of five, ten, or even more percent in worker productivity are not unusual. What might the impact be in ‘greened’ military facilities – whether at home or overseas.


Yet another potential impact of lowering energy demand is that it improves resilience by reducing the demand on the electrical grid. While I truly appreciate the Secretary of the Navy’s five energy goals, what did he say in his speech yesterday about the USS Makin Island, nicknamed ‘the Prius of the Seas’? He emphasized that it saved $2 million dollars when it sailed from Mississippi to its home port on the west coast due to its hybrid engine system and that this will save $250 million dollars over the ship’s lifetime. This cost focus, however, takes away from the type of benefits that speak to a military culture.  Think about how it might be received if he were speaking to a room full of Navy Commanders .  Instead of talking about fiscal savings, would the Secretary be more effective if he said something like the following? 


“I want all of you to imagine that you get the chance to choose the ship you will command.  I will give you a job choice.


·         You can take command of Ship A, which has tremendous capability; it carries over a thousand Marines, tens of helicopters, and officers commanding ships like this have won Presidential Unit Citations when they’ve rescued endangered Americans.  This ship is magnificent and has a 6,000 nautical mile range.

·         Or, you can take command of Ship B, which has tremendous capability; it carries over a thousand Marines, tens of helicopters, and officers commanding ships like this have won Presidential Unit Citations when they’ve rescued endangered Americans.  This ship is magnificent and has a 7,000 nautical mile range..


Which ship would you want to command?”


We need to focus on capability, capability, capability as part of our thinking. And, we need to do that in a system-of-systems way so that we take advantage of the fact that a hybrid power plant can support things like directed energy weapons in a way that our old steam plants cannot.


We must think differently – and seriously — about risk.


I agree completely with Dr. Jay Gulledge’s observation that we need to change the way that we think about climate change. The IPCC is wrong because it is underestimating the risks and doing so in a potentially quite significant way. Simply using the average can be dangerous. After all, if Warren Buffet comes into the room, that does not make us all billionaires although if the room is small enough, on average, we would likely all be billionaires as soon as Buffett entered the room.


So how do we start looking at that full end cost, that long tail, and not use the average but take a more conservative approach? Let’s look at one possibility. I think that economists who use discounted costs end up significantly underplaying the economic cost risks associated with climate change. There is some reasonable work, as I recall, that says that climate change could impose a 30–40% hit on the U.S. economy.


What happens to America’s ability to support its military, which some people say requires 4% of gross domestic product (GDP)? If GDP goes down by 40%, what are the implications for the Department of Defense’s ability to secure budget authority?


 Vice Admiral McGinn raised another interesting point. If the number of Katrina-like events increases, each of those will impose a hit on the economy, making it harder to support the military. We may also have climate migrants being driven by economic factors. How do we deal with the possibility of drastic changes in our national security posture?


When I look at the tail-end risk, I think perhaps there is a discussion that could come from the military that says when we look at this far-end tail, the risks appear so severe that our reasoned military judgment says that the nation needs to “go all in” to ensure that we can avoid this highest end risk. The tail end is so dangerous, we need an insurance policy.


Some other areas meriting study


Another important issue that deserves analysis is: what strategic communication should be going on within the Navy, both internally and externally? Let me begin by focusing on the internal side. In keeping with my earlier comments, I think the answer is to emphasize capability, capability, and capability. Financial considerations to be a footnote at all times. How can we possibly convince our young sailors and marines that they should risk their lives so that we can save a little money? You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you willing to risk your life to save a penny? Efficiency enhancements need to be sold by providing convincing arguments that they improve capability. The Commandant of the Marine Corps is doing this fantastically well. The Navy is doing this by advertising the 7000-nautical-mile range attained by the USS Makin Island. That needs to be the message throughout the Department of the Navy.


Although the Navy is also addressing climate issues, the military remains a hotbed of global warming skepticism. Perhaps we need a strong internal strategic communication effort based on Dr. Gulledge’s fact-based argument that the IPCC is wrong; they are too optimistic and climate change will be worse than projected. Dr. Gulledge’s arguments are compelling and merit a broader audience within the military community.


The critical challenge for strategic communication is: how do we use it to affect cultural change and get people to think differently about energy and climate issues? What is the best strategic communication pathway for convincing the average sailor, the average marine? The fact that the Commandant of the Marine Corps is willing to spend all day at energy meetings sends a pretty strong signal throughout the Marine Corps that ‘energy matters’ to Marines. But we need to do the same for average civilian and military personnel across the entire Department of the Navy. We also need to engage professional societies and organizations, other militaries, and even public/private partnerships.


And, we need to make certain that we include energy and climate considerations are included in the drafting of requests for proposals (RFPs) to industry. Unless this is done, commercial firms are almost legally obligated to ignore the issue unless we can figure out how to make a profit from it because the chief executive officer is obligated financially. It is just a truism. All of the words are well and good, but unless it is reflected in the government’s requests for proposals that we ask industry to respond to, it will not be part of what goes on.


In terms of strategic communications, we need to ensure that we take advantage of every opportunity. The Secretary of the Navy is doing that. He wants to change how the Navy uses energy, and by doing so, influence how the larger society uses energy. Rear Admiral Titley is doing that by engaging with the other services and with other government agencies in order to create what is essentially an interagency for more effective environmental modeling. Rear Admiral Cullom is doing that by focusing on biofuels.


Where else can the Navy and its money be used effectively?


The Secretary of the Navy has laid out five serious and tangible objectives on energy.  These have many driving elements, which start with enhancing Navy capability but also improving larger national security and leveraging U.S. investment to foster more rapid change toward a more sensible energy situation across the whole economy. 


The Secretary highlights, for example, that the Navy’s decision to buy significant – and growing – amounts of low-carbon (such as algae) biofuels will provide an assured market to enable producers to ramp up their production capacity, drive down prices with that increased production so that they can move into the larger marketplace. This path could pay off significantly for the nation.


A question to ask, therefore, is where can the Navy effectively invest its resources in meeting the Secretary’s goals, strengthen the naval services, and also foster change in the larger society.


Let me offer just one example.


The Navy is considering buying some 25,000 hybrid vehicles to use on their bases. However, the Navy’s buying 25,000 hybrids over the next 5 years will do little to change the economics associated with manufacturing those vehicles. On the other hand, if the Navy were to buy several hundred hybrid school buses, that might really make a substantial difference. Replacing standard diesel-powered school buses with plug-in hybrid electric school buses (PHESBs) would cut fuel use in half. The manufacturers, last time I checked, stated that an order of 100 or more buses would drive costs down 40 percent (or more.  Lowering the purchase price per bus by 40% makes the hybrid cost-equivalent to a regular diesel-powered bus over a 7 year period due to the savings in the amount of fuel that needs to be purchased. And, by the way, some medical research suggests that the number one health risk to America’s public school youth is exposure to diesel fumes from school buses. With plug-in hybrid electric school buses, you cut the exposure by 80%. And, those PHESBs would also be a capability enhancement for Navy bases. These are mobile power generation facilities, able to support a unit’s power requirement on an exercise, power a band concert, or provide emergency power in a natural disaster. And, the PHESB batteries could provide a useful tool for base Smart Grid development.  PHESBs would pay off for Navy capability and, if deployed broadly into the Navy, pay off in terms of reduced oil dependency, improved public health, and improved disaster relief capacity. (Think about 1000 PHESBs within a 12 hour drive of the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.  Would 1000 mobile generators, that could show up with relief supplies and a good amount of fuel, have provided significant assistance to the devastated communities?  Could the Navy, which has hundred of buses across all of its bases, be that purchaser of a hundred that drops the price from $200,000 per vehicle to under $130,000 to transform PHESBs from a niche research program into a preferred choice for America’s school transportation programs?


What is this conference about? What could it be about?


It is valuable that this conference occurred and I appreciated the opportunity to be engaged in it as part of the synthesis panel.  As someone who is deeply engaged in many of these issues and who has been to numerous conferences, I learned (perspectives and information) over the course of the two days.  Recognizing this reality, I also have to say that I spent much of the two days wondering who this conference targeted and whether there might have been a more valuable framing of a conference hosted by these two organizations.  Why?


First, we have to be clear that the world is awash in interesting energy and climate conferences. A few years ago, a single person could have tracked essentially all the relevant public meetings in DC and, well, attended most of them with spare time.  That isn’t the case now.  Prior to this symposia, I had some 20 invitations to energy or climate meetings this month. And, during the conference’s two days, I received several more on my Blackberry for the following weeks.


At this conference, there were people like me – who are impassioned on these subjects and have a lot of substantive background.  While, as per above, I did learn, there was also a lot of rote discussion for anyone who follows these subjects. On the other hand, there were those in the audience who had little background in the subject matters and much of the material wasn’t in the ‘Energy/Climate 101 world’.  Thus, I wondered ‘who’?


More importantly, let us think about the conference hosts and organizers and what the conference could have been.  JHU-APL and CNA are the U.S. Navy’s two principal ‘outside’ (but yet insider) research institutions. As noted above, there are many energy conferences, meetings, and events including many that have discussed military energy and climate issues. What has not occurred, as far as I am aware, is a public event focused on the military’s energy and climate research needs and priorities. As preeminent Navy research institutions, JHU-APL and CNA are well positioned to take a leading role in conference focused in this domain.  A two-day conference where the first day had Department of Navy (including Navy and Marine Corps officers) speaking of what they see as their energy and climate challenges, opportunities, uncertainties, and concerns.  The second day could then focus on a discussion of where the Navy’s research community could help, what gaps might exist, and where the research program should focus.  A conference like this would assist the Navy community, help set the JHU-APL/CNA research agendas, and truly stand out as a uniquely valuable event that would bring together people from across the military analytical community.


Core to that research agenda …


Finally, we should also be looking, in a system-of-systems manner, at the full set of structural impediments that hinder our ability to change the way that we use energy and respond to climate change, whether those impediments are legal, fiscal,or otherwise.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve O // Mar 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Umm. I didn’t see a difference between the two ships. What did I miss?

    You didn’t. Cutting and pasting in ‘cleaning up’ something led to, sigh, not making that ‘minor’ little change which was to make the whole point. A “7” in place of a “6”. Thank you for reading and catching — and apologies for that.

  • 2 Daimon // Mar 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Good speech and overview of the issues. You might want to look at the ship comparison. I suspect the range is supposed to be different.

    Item corrected. Sorry. A “7” replacing a “6”.

    I like your school bus idea as a high leverage impact the Navy could have, as well as the system of systems and value analysis approach, which I know are longstanding themes for you.

    Here’s why I’m writing, though. Picking up on your last paragraph asking for more focus, this may sound too simple but is a way to build focus into even a large gathering: Simply pick a core question for the day which everyone can address as a shared inquiry. This is fundamentally different from throwing out a lot of information.

    With a shared inquiry everyone is thinking about the same thing and the information has a natural structure into which it fits: How does it contribute to answering the question?

    A core question for day one could be “What are the energy and climate challenges, opportunities, uncertainties, and concerns we (Navy, Marines, in various aspects) face?”

    This question could be broken down into subquestions addressing major elements such as “…in terms of cost, availability, transportation, exposure (missions to maintain a fuel supply which might not be necessary), personnel impact, etc.?”

    The second day, in response to the first day, the core question can be “How can we address the concerns raised in the first day?”

    Assembling what results into “working answer sets” of the best available options, then intentionally evolving those answer sets, would eventually result in operational alternatives with well-identified advantages, risks and costs. Areas of needed research and development would emerge, as well as options such as your school bus proposal.

    This systematic way of articulating issues as questions and then creating and subsequently evolving sets of working answers is a long-term way of inviting more minds into a developmental process that builds over time.

    Further conferences can be devoted to specific subquestions to fill out missing areas of knowledge or planning. An entire new direction can emerge over time as a plan, optimizing and adjusting as new information, ideas, demands and capabilities come into play.

    Thank you. These are excellent thoughts / ideas that go beyond where I’d taken this. And, well, to repeat that ‘appreciation’. The benefit of comment sections when the comments build on and improve the poster’s ideas are one of the greatest values of the blogosphere.

    There’s more on this at my site.

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