The Military Understands Energy Efficiency

August 15, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

Photo: U.S. Army, Pfc. Emily Houdershieldt

Photo: U.S. Army, Pfc. Emily Houdershieldt

The military has been a living laboratory for energy efficiency during the past few years.

Military facilities tend to be old and need to be fundamentally upgraded to reduce energy use. The goal is to cut waste in two ways. The bases weren’t originally designed with energy efficiency in mind. Thus, even if they are running at optimal specifications, they would be wasteful by today’s standards. And, of course, decades-old equipment is unlikely to be working well.

The relationship of the military and energy is deep. Air Force aircraft, for instance, are voracious energy users. The Navy’s ships are floating facilities – with the disadvantage of having to carry its power source. Today’s soldiers are outfitted with a wide array of electronics. The lighter the batteries that run these mission-critical devices, the harder and longer the soldier can go.

Of course, not all of these efforts directly impact facilities. However, research and development done in one area almost invariably benefits another down the line. It all therefore is relevant.

Facilities are a main focus, of course. Late last week, the U.S. Army announced a milestone: During the past five years, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said, the service invested $1 billion in 127 energy efficiency projects. The investments are a response to the administration’s Energy Savings and Performance-Based Contracting Investments Initiatives. The program, which was announced in December 2011, calls for the government to execute $4 billion in projects by the end of this year, according to the Amery’s press release.

The Army – which has contributed 33 percent of the progress to the $4 billion mark that has been made to date – broke the $1 billion market with an agreement signed August 11 between Alabama Power and Anniston Army Depot. The deal establishes a $20.8 million fund that will be used to retrofit high efficiency chillers, a compressed air plant and heating systems.

The breathe expansive nature of the Army’s energy efficiency efforts are apparent at the Presidio of Monterey in California, where projects ranging from $20,000 to $20 million are underway. The Monterey County Weekly says that energy consumption has been cut by 32 percent, despite a 12 percent increase in the size of the base.

An important point made in the story – one that is echoes across the military – is that the base’s buildings and equipment are antiquated. The garrison’s energy manager calls the old boilers – which were installed about 50 years ago – “incredibly inefficient.” Often, the added, there is a single light switch for an entire floor.

The Army gets a lot of the headlines on energy efficiency in the armed services. Some of this certainly is because of its sheer size. It is not the only branch of the armed forces working on energy efficiency, however. As reported earlier this month by Federal News Radio and highlighted by Energy Manager Today, Air Force’s Secretary Deborah Lee James has established a program aimed at making the approach to energy more holistic and higher level. Earlier this year, the story said, Jones established an office of energy assurance to centrally manage energy and resiliency strategy.

The Marines also are in energy efficiency mode. Energy Manager Today earlier this month noted a report at JD News that the steam plant is being replaced by natural gas boilers at Camp Lejeune, which is in Jacksonville, NC. The project is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 69,000 tons and save about $13 million annually, the report said.

Of course, each of the five branches uses energy a bit differently due to the unique nature of their missions. A good overview of these differences – as well as the similarities – is available at Energy Choice.

It is clear that there is a two-way flow between the military and the society it protects. There is no shortage of cutting edge technology developed by industry that is used by the military. It also seems that worthwhile research and development on things that the military needs – energy storage, distributed (and quickly established) telecom networks and – flows from the military to the civilian world. The economies of scale introduced by the massive financial heft of the military drive cost curves downward. Finally, it should be noted that many military projects utilize innovative financial structures. So, there, too, the military seems to be contributing.

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