Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Coming Defense Budgets, Microgrids, and Our Solar Future

The Coming Defense Budgets, Microgrids, and Our Solar Future: "
blog post photo

In January, Secretary of Defense Gates proposed $78 billion in cuts to the defense budget to take effect over the next five years—a number that almost looks like an accounting error when put in context of President Obama’s call earlier this week, which demands $400 billion in Pentagon cuts—er, efficiencies—by 2023.

The cuts won’t come without some bleeding, to be sure, but the Pentagon is already making some moves to start to save on one bill—the $16 billion it spends every year on its energy needs.

While the bulk of that spending—75 percent—comes from operations, the DoD also spends $4 billion a year to light, heat, cool, etc. 300,000 buildings around the world that take up 2.2 billion sq. ft. of space. Despite that, “we do a terrible job at metering” energy usage per building, Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Undersecretary for Installations and Environment, told a recent gathering on Capitol Hill. The Army, in fact, doesn’t even bother to meter buildings under 29,000 sq. ft.

The event, which was held to discuss programs underway to use more alternative fuels and renewables, was also attended by Sharon Burke, the Asst. Sec. of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, a new office at the Pentagon still trying to find its feet, (and which is still working on submitting its required reporting to Congress, which according to sources on the Hill it is behind schedule in doing.) Burke agreed that “we don’t have good data on power use at the source.” In other words, the military isn’t good at keeping tabs on where and how it uses energy.

I spoke recently with Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Energy and Sustainability who told me that “there’s huge potential for efficiencies and improvements” domestically and overseas by doing things like improving insulation, controlling drafts, putting in better windows and instituting more effective plug load management.

“Perhaps the most promising technology that cuts across both installations both here and abroad are micro grids,” he said, noting that the largest micro grid in the country is being built at Ft. Caron, Col. Micro grids integrate energy from existing generators with solar and alternative fuels to reduce overall fuel usage, and use generator power in a smart, more efficient way.

Army installation energy expenses doubled from 2004 to 2008, while fuel costs in Afghanistan went up 60 percent from 2009 to 2010, Kidd said, so “recognition of cost and cost volatility are very important.” He added that folks in the federal government have to realize that installing these renewable technologies and better metering and insulation packages, while expensive on the up-front costs, “have a payback period. We have to be willing to accept and treat these as an investment, and not a cost. If we do that [they will have an effect on] other budgetary challenges for the Army.”

Pic: Solar grid at Ft. Carson, courtest of the U.S. Army"

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