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Home Archive June 2009 Issue Issue Content The US Department of Defense: Valuing Energy Security

The US Department of Defense: Valuing Energy Security

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Petro-historians give credit for the discovery of oil in the United States to Colonel Edwin Drake in 1859 just outside of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  The oil fields of the Middle East opened for business in 1908 when a British company made the discovery in what is now Iran, but until about 1970 the US produced enough oil to meet its own consumption requirements. It’s almost 40 years later and US demand for oil continues to rise at a rate of approximately 2% per year making us increasingly dependent on foreign imports. The United States sends hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas, frequently to countries with whom we are not friendly, to address its growing demand and falling domestic production.

The development of the current US energy paradigm was inevitable given the view at the start of the 20th Century that fuels were, and would remain, plentiful and readily accessible.  The dawn of the 21st century reveals the lesson that energy is, in fact, neither. This means that while President Obama advocates for commercial and residential changes to how we view and use energy in the United States, the Department of Defense has discovered that these vulnerabilities pose a vital national security risk for our nation.

Changing traditional business models and practices based on outdated assumptions will be neither easy nor inexpensive, but it will be made easier by learning to value energy outside of typical fiscal metrics and understanding the role energy security plays in formulating US national security policies.

According to the Defense Science Board Task Force on Department of Defense (DoD) Energy Strategy, "The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States.  In 2006, it spent $13.6 billion to buy 110 million barrels of petroleum fuel (about 300,000 barrels of oil each day), and 3.8 billion kWh of electricity.  This represents about 0.8% of total US energy consumption and 78% of energy consumption by the Federal government.  Buildings and facilities account for about 25% of the Department’s total energy use.  DoD occupies over 577,000 buildings and structures worth $712 billion comprising more than 5,300 sites.  In 2006, the Department spent over $3.5 billion for energy to power fixed installations, and just over $10 billion on fuel for combat and combat related systems."

 As DoD deploys an ever increasing number of electronic weapons systems to improve operational efficiency, extensive computer systems will expand their thirst for electricity. Not only is demand for energy increasing with every new procurement, but DoD must consider its ability to accomplish critical missions at fixed and tactical installations in the event of an interruption in energy availability (both fuel and electricity).  Fixed installations are almost completely dependent on the commercial power grid.  A key thread in the 2008 Defense Science Board’s Energy Strategy report was the vulnerability of the nation’s electric power grid.  At fixed installations in the United States, energy sources have become increasingly efficient following deregulation, but also less resilient and more susceptible to outage.  They are vulnerable to extreme weather, cyber attack and physical attack.  Solutions for backup power have not kept pace with the technology required to carry out many critical missions in times of crisis or the length of time commercial power is expected to be unavailable.

As DoD embarks upon solving the present and future energy problems of increased energy usage, higher energy bills, and reliance on a fragile national grid, environmental stewardship objectives must be addressed as well. Energy objectives and environmental stewardship can no longer be viewed as competing interests. Heightened attention to global climate change has raised concerns about emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Concerns also exist about the geopolitical consequences of global warming. While the cause of global climate change might be the subject of debate, within the Department of Defense’s response to it is not. The 2008 Joint Operating Environment report, “Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force” authored by US Joint Forces command, says, “Whatever their provenance, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes have been and will continue to be a concern of joint force commanders. In particular, where natural disasters collide with growing urban sprawl, widespread human misery could be the final straw that breaks the back of a weak state. In the 2030s as in the past, the ability of US military forces to relieve the victims of natural disasters could help the United States’ image around the world. For example, the contribution of US and partner forces to relieving the distress caused by the catastrophic Pacific tsunami of December 2006 reversed the perceptions of America held by many Indonesians. Perhaps no other mission performed by the Joint Force provides so much benefit to the interests of the United States at so little cost.”

In response to these vulnerabilities and global challenges, Presidents, Congress and DoD leadership have mandated many energy consumption metrics at our fixed installations. They include but are not limited to: 
1. Installations Energy Use:  Reduce by 30% by 2015 from 2003 baseline [EO 13423 / 2007 Energy Act]
2. Non-Tactical Vehicle Fuel Consumption: Reduce annually by 20% beginning in FY10 but NLT FY15 [2007 Energy Act]
3. Electricity from Renewable Sources:  25% of installation electricity by 2025 [2007 Energy Act]
4. Fossil Fuel Use in new/renovated buildings: Reduce 55% by 2010; 100% by 2030 [2007 Energy Act]
5. Hot Water in new/renovated buildings from solar power:  30% by 2015 [2007 Energy Act]
6. Renewable Electricity:  use 10 year contracts to buy [FY08 NDAA]
7. Non-petroleum fuel use (ethanol, natural gas):  increase by 10% annually [EO 13423/2007 Energy Act] Data Collection for Energy Management
8. Create Metered Energy Benchmarking Database [2007 Energy Act]
9. Meter Electricity by Oct 2012 [2005 Energy Act]
10. Meter Natural Gas and Steam by Oct 2016 [2007 Energy Act]

In pursuit of energy security the Department of Defense is assembling a diversified energy portfolio tailored to the assets and needs of individual facilities.  Without specifying it as such, DoD is taking a holistic approach to their transformation.

Energy security is the capacity to avoid adverse impact of energy disruptions caused either by natural, accidental or intentional events affecting energy and utility supply and distribution systems. According to the Army Energy  Security Implementation Strategy (January 2009) energy security describes a situation where fuel, power production/distribution systems, and end user devices possess five characteristics: surety, survivability, supply, sufficiency and sustainability.


Surety: A condition which provides access to energy and fuel sources;
Survivability: Energy and fuel sources are  resilient and durable in the face of potential damage;
Supply: An identified and available source of energy, whether it is traditional fossil fuels, alternative energy (nuclear, clean coal, biomass, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, hydrogen) or renewable energy (ecological sources such as hydropower, geo-thermal/pressure, wind, tidal and solar);
Sufficiency: There is an adequate quantity of power and fuel from a variety of sources;
Sustainability: Operating practices can be perpetuated by limiting demand, reducing waste and effectively utilizing alternative energy and renewable resources to the maximum extent possible.

Most DoD installations have contingency plans in the event of a grid failure that can provide backup power to the installations’ critical infrastructure using, in most cases, diesel powered generators. However, the expected duration for these contingency plans are on the magnitude of days and weeks not months.  These single-option contingency plans are outdated in today’s environment. Diesel generators are not designed to run for weeks at a time.

As the Defense Science Board Task Force noted, “….any assessment of the risk to military missions from grid failure must also take into account the ability of the national pipeline to provide fuel to installations where it critically warrants.”  In energy security terms, energy supplies at today’s military installations lack survivability and sustainability and our contingency plans lack sufficiency and surety.  In combination, this situation presses DoD to take a holistic viewpoint of our energy infrastructure and energy use in order to create energy security.

A holistic model for energy security means that DoD is first undertaking any and all possible demand reduction projects. Decreasing demand through advanced technology and personnel management programs is the least expensive energy conservation measure available to commanders and is the foundation on which all subsequent energy source decisions can be based.  After energy demand is reduced, quantified and managed, key decision makers can evaluate their current energy situation and determine the best course of action to advance their position.

The second step in DoD’s holistic approach is to pursue technologies that exist today which can efficiently distribute, control, and manage the flow of electricity. This is the technology that is needed on installations to best manage the available energy in order to deliver where it’s needed, when it’s needed, in the quantity in which it’s needed. Lastly, and most visibly, DoD is assembling a diversified energy portfolio. As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pointed out in the April 13 issue of Newsweek , “Our energy crisis is not due to a lack of American energy resources.”  Likewise, the Defense Science Board report noted “The United States has adequate domestic resources to meet its electricity needs into the foreseeable future from coal, natural gas, alternative energy sources such as nuclear, clean coal, biomass, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, hydrogen and renewable energy resources such as hydropower, geo-thermal/pressure, and wind, tidal and solar.” 

The primary fault with electricity is not the availability of natural resources to power generation, but rather the fragility and vulnerability of the national electric grid which transmits and distributes electricity from large central generating stations to individual users across the country. The electrical grid is old, fragile, and susceptible to extended outage from natural disaster or sabotage.

Achieving energy security is the result of assembling a diversified energy portfolio consisting of existing systems and new technologies. There is a great deal of talk in military circles today about “islanding” our military bases.  It is important to note that this is a capability not an end state. The objective is not to disconnect from the national electrical grid, but rather to be prepared for situations where the national grid is unavailable.   Islanding is the ability (not the requirement) to be energy resource independent.  This does not mean that installations operate as islands at all times but rather can disconnect when required.  Practically speaking, isolated land masses may be connected to their mainland neighbors by several draw-bridges. In most situations draw-bridges are lowered and traffic flows freely between the mainland and the island. However, it is occasionally necessary to raise several of those draw bridges and under extreme conditions to raise them all simultaneously.  Nellis Air Force Base, in Las Vegas, Nevada, currently has one of the country’s largest solar arrays at 14.2 MW.  According to base energy manager Bob Jones this solar array provides about 25% of Nellis’ electrical needs.  Even if the solar array were expanded four-fold to provide 100% of the installation’s electrical needs, it is not in the interest of the base to disconnect from the grid.  If terrorists struck or if a major eruption of Japan’s Mount Asama were to darken western skies for a fortnight thus disabling solar power production at Nellis, the national grid serves as a backup source of power. Likewise, if the electrical grid is disabled, the power generated by Nellis’ solar panels is sufficient to operate its critical infrastructure. In tandem, the existing grid and the new solar technology contribute to energy security at Nellis AFB.

DoD leadership acknowledges that having the ability to island while also maintaining grid-connection capabilities contributes to energy security.  Unfortunately, as new distributed electrical generation facilities are added, they also become potential points of failure. In energy security terms renewable energy lacks surety (the sun doesn’t shine all day, the wind doesn’t always blow, infrastructure is vulnerable to saboteurs). In those cases, being connected to the national electrical grid provides DoD with a sure and sufficient source of energy.  Likewise, if the national grid experiences failure the ability to generate power on our installations from alternative and renewable sources contributes to energy security.

Installation commanders understand the capabilities and vulnerabilities of current and planned sources and the risks and rewards that come from interconnectedness.  No energy source by itself contains all five attributes that make up energy security.  Only through their holistic approach to creating a diversified energy portfolio is DoD able to make progress fashioning energy secure installations.

We see clearly the role that diversification plays in achieving and maintaining energy security.  Properly understanding the role of energy security in US national security considerations should lead to the pursuit of programs that take a different perspective than conventional energy management programs. Whereas energy management programs are valued for their ability to reduce energy consumption and cost, energy security programs can incur sizeable cost obligations relative to other energy management programs, but are valued as investments in long term US national security strategies and are better measured by  diplomatic power, minimized exposure of business operations to  hostile nations, and increased firepower and operational effectiveness, to name a few.


Historically, decisions on expenditures have been made based on “first costs” with an eye towards life cycle cost analyses. Today, more than ever, the Department of Defense is learning to accept and create new business models, where fiscal decisions are made with a greater understanding of US national security vulnerabilities, mission requirements and long-term Energy security objectives.  Installations are being asked to make Energy security an important and valued parameter in any expenditure decision. Expenditures on energy conservation measures are being viewed as “investments” with long-term rewards and dividends which are paid in commodities beyond money--national security, soldier lives, improved manpower utilization, military to civilian technology transfers, and increased foreign policy options for elected officials, to name a few. It is expected that some critical infrastructure investments will be made based on their contribution to DoD’s Energy security objectives but which do not meet traditional life cycle cost analysis objectives or which don’t provide a return on investment.  This process will become easier with the development of an “energy key performance parameter” as recommended by the Defense Science Board Task Force and metrics to quantify the “fully burdened cost of fuel”.

DoD’s challenge is to use available energy funding wisely and search for opportunities to implement innovative financing options in support of energy goals and objectives.  Normally, DoD energy initiatives should have, as a key program deliverable, reduction of overall operating cost, However, an honest assessment of US global challenges should cause us to value any contribution to energy security that can be identified and justified by providing increased energy surety, survivability, supply, sufficiency and/or sustainability.

Drexel Kleber is the Director, Strategic Operations Power Surety Task Force, US Department of Defense



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