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TCO, energy, climate, and the military — a brief framing discussion

March 21st, 2011 · 2 Comments

We need, in our discussions of energy and climate issues, to focus on costs and benefits of action (or inaction). As regular readers are likely aware, ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO) (or total ownership cost (TOC) or life-cycle cost (LCC) or CtO (cost to own)) is central to my way of considering energy issues.  TCO, however, offers yet another angle of the type of holistic thinking that I seek to foster: trends, challenges, and opportunities. 

Just as we need to foster our thinking beyond the acquisition (cost-to-buy, CtB) costs to the total-ownership cost (that Cost-to-Own including acquisition, operating, maintenance, and disposal costs), we need to think not solely of our energy (such as Peak Oil) and climate (rising seas, acidification of oceans, disruptive weather patterns) challenges but also energy and climate ‘opportunities’. The greatest opportunities, almost certainly, derive not from what the trends create (higher cost oil or disrupted agricultural production) but from the recognition of the trends and making the choices to address (mitigate) the challenges. The need to address challenges creates tremendous opportunities.

Recognizing our energy and climate challenges helps provide visibility to energy efficiency as a path to address both in a holistic manner. Energy efficiency investments in the built infrastructure can create jobs, reduce homeowner expenses, make homes and offices more comfortable to live in and fosters greater productivity (in schools, offices, manufacturing facilities, etc …) (e.g., ‘improves capability’), while mitigating our (over) reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating climate change.

It is, simply, important to step back and not stove-pipe our issues. And, as part of that, we must be careful in how we frame our discussions.

Several interesting and worth attending military-oriented events next week provide a window on this.

Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Physics Laboratory (JHU(APL)) and the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) will, for the second year in a row, run a two-day conference focused on the Department of Navy (DON: U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps) and energy/climate issues. (See here for a perspective on the 2010 JHU-APL/CNA Energy/Climate and the Navy conference.)  This conference will bring together a rich cross-section of the DON to speak on energy and climate issues. This includes, not surprisingly,  the heads of Task Force Energy (Rear Admiral (RADM) Cullom) and Task Force Climate Change  (RADM Titley). In addition, there will be experts on aviation, ships, and expeditionary (ground) technologies and operations.  While this will provide a valuable path toward in-depth public discussion of DON energy and climate issues, the framing of this conference raises a basic problem.  Consider the conference title: Adapting to Climate and Energy Challenges: Options for U.S. Maritime Forces.   As the conference is described,

The symposium is structured as a series of themed presentations and roundtable discussions to explore the options available to our nation’s maritime forces – those of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard – as they seek to adapt to climate and energy challenges. We’ll examine options for adapting strategy, plans and operations, maritime infrastructure, and research priorities to climate challenges. And, we’ll look at options for adapting aviation and ship operations, expeditionary capabilities, and shore-side facilities and infrastructure to energy challenges.

What is missing from this framing? Opportunities. For military forces, “energy-smart practices foster greater tactical, operational and strategic effectiveness.” 

USS Makin Island, the Navy’s newest amphibious ship, is a poster child in many ways. Nicknamed “Prius of the Seas,” the ship has a hybrid gas turbine-electric drive system that is about 17 percent more fuel efficient than the traditional engine system. Yes, the ship emits less carbon and saves money by burning less fuel. Most important, however, the hybrid system delivers greater capability.

A simple question: If offered command of a ship with a 6,000-nautical-mile range or an essentially identical ship with a 7,000-nautical-mile range, which would you want to command? Endurance is the capability that hybrid drive brings to the war fighter.

Greater endurance buys more than tactical advantage. A reduced logistics tail means fewer resources to move fuel and defend those fuel lines; improved tooth-to-tail ratios; and less vulnerable supply lines. This creates a resource opportunity: We could have the same tooth at a lower cost, or we can move resources from buying fuel logistics tail into a more robust tooth.

Clearly, those in JHU-APL’s conference facilities next week will, almost certainly, speak to the opportunities achievable through addressing energy and climate challenges. These opportunities, however, should be centerpiece to discussions rather than after-thought.

Consider another event next week, hosted by The Clean Energy Network, DC, that will also focus on military energy issues.  Entitled Clean Energy Priorities of the Military, this panel’s invitation provided this focus: “a panel discussing the trends, challenges, and opportunities surrounding Clean Tech and the Department of Defense”. Solar energy systems are, for example, trending toward lower cost and broader availability. There are challenges ranging from certification issues (such as the lack of BiPV (building integrated photovoltaiics) in the building standards used within the DOD (note, this is being addressed), to cost (solar is more ‘expensive’ in pure cash terms than grid-based power), to uncertainties about technological durability, to the intermittancy of solar power. And, even with those challenges, solar offers real opportunities from reducing requirements for moving liquid fuel around the battlefield and cutting the number of batteries that soldiers/Marines need to carry (as they use solar to recharge batteries rather than carry many pounds of batteries to be thrown away) to ability to support base operation moves toward lower reliance on vulnerable electrical grids.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is hosting another event where the title quite explicitly points to the military’s opportunity through focusing on energy challenges: Operation Energy Innovation: A Stronger, Smarter Fighting Force . In fact, this panel sees the ‘opportunity’ for the broader economy (innovation) through the military’s attention to how energy innovation will strengthen the military:

With a massive energy footprint and a mission-driven need to reduce fossil energy consumption, DOD can play a prime role accelerating cleantech development and is already seeking to become a test bed for innovative technologies.

Framing matters. Discussing “challenges” focuses our thinking toward “costs”. “Trends, Challenges, Opportunities” provides a better basis for meaningful discussion as it helps us move toward thinking about costs (including risks) and benefits (including risk mitigation). This second is a far better basis for supporting sound decision-making.

Three DC-area military/energy events next week of March open to the public:

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