DoD Leads Significant Federal Energy Use Reduction

December 8, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

airplanesThe federal government’s use of energy fell last year to 0.94 quadrillion BTUs, the lowest total since record keeping began 40 years ago. In 1975, almost 1.6 quadrillion BTUs were consumed, according to Today in Energy.

The reduction, which was computed by the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), was led by declines in jet fuel consumption by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Overall, the DoD uses 78 percent of federal energy use. The next three users — the U.S. Postal Service (5 percent) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (3 percent) and the U.S. Department of Energy (3 percent) – pale in comparison to the DoD.

It is fairly easy to explain the wide gap: Things that fly use a lot of energy and, and the government uses them freely. “Because most of the recent decline in federal energy use came from jet fuel reductions, it’s more likely that actions taken by the Air Force or any other branch of the military that uses aircraft had a greater contribution to the decline in energy use rather than the size of the armed forces,” wrote Rebecca George and Allen McFarland, authors of the report, to emailed questions by Energy Manager Today. McFarland is an Industry Economist and George is an Operations Research Analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

The decline in size of the armed forces during the latter years of the 20th century in also played a role in the long term decline. “However, prior to these last few years, specifically during the substantial declines in energy use you can see from the 1980s to the 1990s, that is more likely due to the reduction in military spending that occurred in the 1990s, which likely contributed to declining active military personnel and fewer bases around the world.”

The Decline May Continue

The decreases in fuel use may continue, according to the story. In March, the Obama Administration issued an executive order with ambitious goals for 2025: Use of 25 percent renewables and alternative energy, a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, a 2.5 percent reduction in energy intensity, a 36 percent reduction in water intensity and use of half alternative fuel vehicles (with a 20 percent interim goal by 2020).

The military is spending a lot of time and effort meeting those goals. In May, the Army released a document outlining steps to reducing energy expenditures. The story on the document at Epoch Times pointed out that there is a fine line: Of course, nobody would hamstring troops in battle. On the other hand, there are many ways in which energy can be saved that don’t impact operations. Indeed, the army will use many steps familiar to industry, according to the story:

To diminish the use of electricity, the Army plans to use more solar panels on its installations and adopt cogeneration — using the heat produced by energy generators instead of letting it disperse. The Army is also looking into the use of microgrids — solar panels that are portable—which the U.S. Air Force had already invested in as early as 2010.

The goal of reducing energy use, as mandated by the Obama administration, seems to be taking on a bit of a contest feel. Next week, the USS Preble will be presented with the Fiscal Year 2015 MIDPAC Energy Conservation Award, according to Ho‘okele, a publication of the Honolulu Star. The destroyer cut energy use significantly:

Preble achieved a 19 percent reduction in electricity consumption below the MIDPAC guided-missile destroyer baseline. While operating forward, Preble consumed fuel at a rate of 23 percent below the DDG-class average. The ship is authorized to fly the MIDPAC energy conservation pennant for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.

Smart grids also are part of the equation in Hawaii. Perhaps coincidentally or purposely timed to roughly coincide with the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a story on the army’s use of microgrids in general and in Hawaii in particular was posted at the site Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System.

The story says that the army had gotten an easement at the highest point on Oahu for microgrid technology that would enable power to be reestablished after a tsunami or other natural or manmade disaster quicker and more efficiently. The story distinguished between dumb and smart microgrids. The former use non-renewable fuels while the latter use renewables and can prioritize where the electricity it generates is sent. The army has about 100 microgrids, the story says.

Meeting the goals going forward will require hard work, George and McFarland wrote: “All of the goals that were listed in the [Today In Energy] article except for the water intensity goal will require some acceleration in progress, as shown by the data we listed in the story,” they wrote. “We would add that zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles still only make up a small percentage of the total federal fleet.”

The reduction of energy use by the government has several drivers: An administration that is fully behind the concept ideologically and wants to set an example for industry and the public, new tools, technology and procedures that enable significant gains to be made and a military that is smaller than it was when record keeping began.

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