Army continues to evolve energy programs despite huge budget cuts

By J.D. LeipoldDecember 5, 2013

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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 4, 2013) -- The Army had to scrap more than $250 million in energy projects during fiscal year 2013 in order to comply with the Budget Control Act, said the service's deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability.

Speaking as part of a joint services energy panel at George Mason University recently, Richard Kidd added that the slash to the Army's funds to sustain, restore and modernize, or SRM, its posts and installations have put the SRM accounts at below 50 percent of where they should be and it could get worse should sequestration kick in.

"Existing Army facilities are breaking and they're not being repaired and their energy performance is going down and this represents a significant long-term cost liability to the country because once they break, they're going to consume more energy and be more expensive to fix once we do get the funds," Kidd said. "The significant reduction in SRM accounts is going to create a financial hole that will have to be paid in the future."

While Kidd's budget comments were bleak, he also addressed the Army's current efforts and successes in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, as well as power management and distribution for installations and Soldiers. He said the Army significantly reduced its total energy consumption in the last 10 years by 16.2 percent, even as the force grew by 20 percent during that period. As the largest of the four services, the Army still remains the largest utility consumer in the federal government, he said.

Kidd explained the framework on how the Army looks at energy as a trio of basing, Soldier and vehicle power.

Basing includes the energy consumed by installations (equal to 155 small towns) as well as contingency bases, he said. The Army has reduced its petrol usage in non-tactical vehicles by 20 percent over what it used in fiscal year 2011. Most liquid fuel the Army uses in vehicles and at least 40 percent goes into generators to make electricity. Generators for contingency bases have proven to be largely inefficient because rarely are full-load capacities placed on them, Kidd said.

"The generator will burn the same amount of fuel whether or not it's effectively loaded. You don't get any sort of energy efficiency for under-loading a generator," he said, adding that when gensets aren't used, they break down more often and create a significant burden on maintenance support.

The secretary said the Army has deployed systems as standard equipment that allow generators to be networked to turn off and on as needed and which also ensure loads are matched.

"In many cases, we've integrated renewables with a renewable generator power storage system," Kidd said. "What's important about this is, yes, it saves money and you have paybacks of less than a year, but more significantly, this is the cheapest and best way we have found to return combat power to the fight in Afghanistan, because we have been able to free up resupply security resources that were previously devoted to energy."

A former Army officer, Kidd said some combat outposts had to be refueled five to six times a month, but now they're down to twice monthly. That reduction means infantry platoons have four more days a month to do what needs to be done in terms of their primary military mission.

Addressing Soldier power, the secretary said the Army was restructuring its brigade combat teams "to add emphasis to operational energy."

"The Army has done a terrific job of equipping our Soldiers with all these tactical devices that will give them an overmatch of any enemy communication devices, GPS, laser range-finders, etc., but we've treated this as an energy system, as one-off and as a result we've given our Soldiers 23 different types of batteries, which up to a few years ago weighed 14 pounds.," he said. "If they went out on a 72-hour mission, this was the first item that required resupply and this drove tactical resupply of the units battery consumption."

Kidd said that's all changed through spiral development and deployment of Soldier systems. The Army has been able to reduce the Soldier load by 30 percent or down to 9.7 pounds, in a little more than two years through integrated Soldier power/data systems and body conformal batteries.

He said the Soldier will remain at the center of the Army's drive to not only meet, but exceed power requirements.

"In fact, that is the principal area of research and development funds for the Army when it comes to energy," Kidd said.

With new regulations coming on line concerning power plants and carbon emissions among others, the impact on the Army affects a large range of coal-fired boilers, many of which are dual-process and produce heat as well as electricity.

The Army has a plan in place to convert and supplant all such boilers over time and is working with the Department of Energy and industry on combined heat-power solutions, Kidd said. Costs have dropped for natural gas and other forms of energy, he said. Natural gas could substantially reduce carbon emissions for the boilers, but implications of the Budget Control Act may make the change-over slower than desired.

"We're going to replace boilers that range everywhere from $1 million to $126 million with combined heat-power," Kidd said. "We have a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy to help analyze and assess that, and in some cases, we're able to do it through performance contracting; in other cases we're using our working capital fund."

Kidd concluded his remarks saying all services had collectively changed the way DOD values energy and energy security for the long run.

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