Get Energy Smart! NOW!

Blogging for a sustainable energy future.

Get Energy Smart!  NOW! header image 2

It’s all about capability …

April 8th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Taking Energy Smart measures are typically (near universally) also fiscally smart measures. However, starting from the fiscal (those dollars and cents) arguments often isn’t persuasive enough to tip people to action. Nor are the very serious environmental (including Climate Chaos) challenges that Energy Smart practices help address enough to motivate most people to serious change. Recognizing the very real fiscal and environmental benefits, comfort (warmer homes) and capability (hybrids and other electric vehicles being more reliable and better handling) can be far more important to helping people recognize the value of and then deciding to take action.

Perhaps there is nowhere this is more true than with the U.S. military, where issues of “capability” are far more persuasive than putting on green eye shades (discussing dollars) or putting on green slogans in talking environmental benefits and issues.

Over the past several years, the U.S. military has been moving toward incorporating Energy Smart practices as a core value. This derives from a recognition that energy-smart practices foster greater effectiveness at all levels (tactical, operational and strategic) of warfare.

The U.S. Navy provides an excellent example of how Energy Smart approaches improve capability.

Improved fuel efficiency at sea, in the air and on the ground increases capability and reduces reliance on logistic support. That logistic support (fuel convoys on the ground and tankers at sea or in the air) creates tactical and operational vulnerabilities. Reliance on a single fuel type (petroleum-based energy) fosters strategic risks, including the need to dedicate forces to protect oil supplies and a vulnerability to price shocks, such as those that occurred in 2008, when the Navy’s and the nation’s fuel bills skyrocketed and oil prices topped $140 barrel.

This realization is fostering cultural, fiscal policy and force structure shifts in the Navy that will improve war-fighting capabilities.

The Secretary of the Navy’s push to accelerate the move toward smarter approaches to energy built on the Chief of Naval Operations’ formation of Task Force Energy and moves by the Marine Corps focusing on more efficient base infrastructure and examination of energy challenges in the operating arena.

At the October 2009 Navy Energy Forum, in a speech that I recommend reading, the Secretary of the Navy Secretary Ray Mabus (pdf) laid out five objectives:

  • Create energy-smart acquisition practices to assure cost-effective, energy-efficient platforms and improve energy efficiency in the Navy’s industrial base.
  • Demonstration of a Green Strike Group in 2012 with a Great Green Fleet deployment by 2016.
  • A 50 percent cut in petroleum use in the Navy’s commercial vehicle fleet.
  • At least half of shore-based energy requirements from alternative sources by 2020.
  • At least half of all Navy energy consumption from alternative sources by 2020.

These are serious, ambitious, and meaningful goals.

However, “green” - whether Green Hornet or the Great Green Fleet - has received undue attention.

Greening is actually a corollary to undertaking energy-smart measures rather than the core objective.

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 for any Navy officer at a pivotal point in their career:

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.  With that extra 1000 miles, perhaps the ship will be able to steam to rescue an ambassador without waiting 12 hours for a tanker to arrive for refueling or perhaps the ship will be able to stay on station a few more days without having to go and refuel or perhaps the ship will be less vulnerable to enemy action since it won’t be spending as much time alongside tankers as a sitting duck.

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 (more combat capability with less support requirements); 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.

Energy-smart practices also create strategic advantages, such as stronger resiliency to disturbances in the energy system (including inoculating the services from price shocks like we are seeing right now) and contribute to a national move toward less reliance on imported fuels.

If reliance on oil products falls, the imperative for maintaining substantial forces in oil-rich regions also could fall, enabling a changed national strategy for global force structure. And just as endurance reduces vulnerabilities to enemy action, reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil will inoculate the nation from enemy moves to cut off fuel supplies, whether through embargo or direct action.

There is a corollary set of benefits. The Secretary of the Navy has highlighted how the service has been a leader in moving technology into practice. From sail to coal and coal to oil, the U.S. Navy has been a leader of change.

The Navy and Marine Corps, the services I am privileged to lead, have always supported innovation and always led technological change. We have constantly searched for those technologies that would improve our capabilities and allow us to better defend this country.

… 128 years ago, Congress authorized the ABCD ships - Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dolphin - the first four ships of the Navy to be constructed completely out of steel. In the 1880s, this was a pretty revolutionary concept because for most people – and I probably would have been in that group in 1880 – it was difficult to get past the notion that steel sinks.

But it was the way that we power our ships that maybe best shows the Navy’s willingness to innovate. In the 1850s, not long before we built the ABCD ships, the Navy changed from wind to coal. In the early part of the 20th century we changed again from coal to oil. In the 1950s, we pioneered nuclear as a manner of propulsion.

In every single case, in every one of these cases, there were naysayers that said, you’re trading one form of very proven energy for another form that we just don’t know if it’s going to work. It’s too expensive, it’s too hard, it’s too unproven.

In fact, when we went from sail to coal, the uniformed leaders of the Navy objected saying that sail had been proven for thousands of years, what were we doing?

Every single time there were naysayers and every single time they were wrong.

The Navy’s increasing focus on energy-smart practices offers a real potential for catalyzing change in the general economy.

The Navy, for example, is making efforts to develop biofuels (such as from algae) to displace traditional fossil fuels. While those fuels cost significantly more than traditional liquid fuels, their price is dropping rapidly. Before the end of the decade, the Navy should be able to purchase those fuels at a price comparable to today’s fossil fuels, providing the Navy, and perhaps the national economy, resiliency in the face of future oil price shocks.

Of course, energy-smart practices reduce pollution. This is an important benefit, but it is only a corollary benefit for the U.S. Navy, the U.S. military, and many others. To re-emphasize, when it comes to energy, the motto is simple: It starts with operational capability.

Version appeared as Strategic Greening Can Boost U.S. Navy Resiliency.

Tags: Energy

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 UMW: a messaging path to a clean-energy future? // Jun 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    [...] to foster real change across the military services when it comes to the energy domain.   Again, the military focus derives from a C2 focus: costs (in blood, treasure, and risks) and capability (re…Increasingly, America’s military is realizing that Energy Smart practices are a path toward [...]

  • 2 Green(ert) on energy issues? What course does he wish to sail? // Dec 7, 2011 at 9:28 am

    [...] shipbuilding) improvement and ‘reform’; unmanned systems; and energy.  In October 2009, Secretary Mabus laid out five key “stretch” targets on energy issues that include significant attention to energy efficiency and targets for 50 percent [...]

  • 3 Military seeks to end “The Burden” and create opportunities // Sep 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    [...] security relationship with the Middle East).  And, the benefits will come from reduced casualties, increased capabilities, reduced financial costs, and other valuable [...]

  • 4 Strange Bedfellows | Sense & Sustainability // Nov 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    [...] foster real change across the military services when it comes to the energy domain.   Again, the military focus derives from a C2 focus: costs (in blood, treasure, and risks) and capability (re…Increasingly, America’s military is realizing that Energy Smart practices are a path toward [...]

Leave a Comment