'Beans, bullets and BTUs' reminds Soldiers of energy security

By C. Todd LopezJuly 16, 2009

800 more on order
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 16, 2009) -- The Army will soon be the largest fleet owner of both low-speed electric vehicles and hybrid-electric vehicles.

"That will have significant impact on our fuel consumption at our installations," said Dr. Kevin T. Geiss, program director for energy security in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment.

Geiss said orders are in now for an additional 800 low-speed electric vehicles, formerly called "neighborhood electric vehicles" by the Army. The purchase is part of a plan to add 4,000 of the LSEVs to the Army over three years. The Army is getting an additional 502 hybrid vehicles for installations as well.

The vehicle purchases are part of a larger plan by the Army to focus on energy security, Geiss said. The plan also includes a solar project at Fort Irwin, Calif., and a geothermal project at Hawthorne, Nev. Geiss said the Army should know soon who the civilian developer will be for the Fort Irwin project, and that a memorandum of agreement with the Navy is now being finalized for the 30Mw geothermal project in Nevada.

"Our goal there is to by the end of the summer or early fall, have the request for proposal on the street and have the industry day to get the developer for that project," Geiss said.

The Army's plans for energy security include such things as electric and hybrid vehicles, micro-grids for more efficient power distribution, reductions in consumption of energy on installations, certification of tactical vehicles for alternative fuel use, and partnerships with industry to build power-production capacity.

Ensuring the Army has enough energy, when and where it needs it, is an important consideration when prosecuting both training missions and contingency operations overseas, Geiss said. And efforts to provide that energy, so the mission can continue uninterrupted, focus on five key components: surety, sufficiency, supply, sustainability and survivability.

"All of those things are important to us for energy security," he said. He modified a Marine Corps motto, "beans, bullets and bandages," to include "BTUs" or British thermal units -- a unit for measuring energy.

"Think of the concept of beans, bullets and BTUs," he said. "Most people are familiar with the beans and bullets -- but beans, bullets and BTUs, I think, focuses us on the vital importance of energy for the Army and our missions."

Right now, Geiss said, neither the Army nor the United States is in a place where it can claim it has energy security.

"I would say energy security is an end state," he said. "If we were able to satisfy those five key requirements at our installations and our deployed operations, and with our weapons systems, then we would achieve a state of energy security. I don't think that the nation is in an energy-secure state at this point."

Inside the United States, the Army has to consider what happens if the civilian electric grid, on which it depends for its power needs, should go down. Plans for that event, and the ability to continue operations unimpeded are at the center of the Army's energy security concerns in the United States.

Solutions could involve equipping every installation with its own power-generating capability -- a natural gas power plant, for instance. But the cost for that, Geiss said, is prohibitive. Additionally, there are community, state and federal restrictions about what kinds of things can be done.

Instead, Geiss said, the solution involves looking at both power production and reducing energy consumption. Reduction involves identifying what power consumption on an installation is mission critical and also taking measures to be more efficient in energy use. The Army is conducting ongoing studies to determine the nature of energy use at its installations.

For reduction of energy use, the Army must now comply with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, that says all new and remodeled facilities must be off fossil fuels by 2030. Additional legislation mandates a decrease in consumption of 3 percent a year for a period of 10 years. By 2015, Geiss said, the Army will have achieved a reduction of about 30 percent.

For generation of power on an installation, the Army will look to partner with industry to develop renewable energy production capability. Last year the Army established the Energy and Partnerships Office to facilitate those kinds of developments.

"The Army does not have the funds internally to accomplish all this," Geiss said. "We can't fund all the geothermal plants, all the wind farms, all the solar farms, to get us the power and energy that we need. It's going to require a partnership with industry."

Partnerships with industry mean looking for investors and the right locations around the country to develop projects that will benefit both the Army and the developer.

"We can generate large projects that will provide us with power, as well as an economic case for the developer being able to sell some of that power off to the grid," Geiss said.

Ongoing Army energy projects include the solar projects at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., and large-scale energy-management programs at Fort Hood, Texas. There is also the development of a 500-megawatt solar thermal plant at Fort Irwin, Calif.; a 30Mw geothermal plant at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev.; and biomass-to-fuel demonstrations at six Army posts.

Overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy security is also important for contingency operations and for weapons systems. The Army needs continuous, uninterrupted power for its forward operating bases. Added to the mix in forward locations is the exponential increase in the cost of fuel.

While fuel prices rose at the pumps in the United States last year, the price for fuel used by forces in Iraq and Afghanistan rose as well. But there, the cost of the fuel itself is eclipsed by the cost of getting it to where it is needed.

"Last year, the big deal was the price of fuel," Geiss said. "You go from $2 a gallon to $4 a gallon -- so we are doubling our costs. But that's really the tip of the iceberg as far as how much it really costs to get a gallon of fuel to an operating base or some other operating location."

The "fully burdened" cost of fuel accounts for the cost of transporting it to where it is needed, Geiss said. And moving fuel by convoy or even airlift is expensive.

"In some places you have to fly it in by plane or by helicopter and drop off bladders of fuel," he said. "Those costs can be an additional $20, $40 or even $200 a gallon. To complete that mission with weapons a system in a remote location in Afghanistan, for a week, you (might) need 1,000 gallons. For us to get that in there, it's going to cost us maybe $200 a gallon. So that's $200,000."

In some places, Geiss said, analysts have estimated the fully burdened cost of fuel might even be as high as $1,000 per gallon.

Energy consumed by a combat vehicle may not even be for actual mobility of the vehicle, Geiss said, but instead to run the systems onboard the vehicle, including the communications equipment and the cooling systems to protect the electronics onboard.

One combat vehicle, Geiss said, operates an 800-horsepower power plant -- of which only 200 horsepower are used for mobility. The rest is to power the vehicle's subsystems.

"What is it cooling' Electronics and sensors, some for the engine," Geiss said. "That's how significant this other stuff is."

In January, the Defense Science Board released a report titled "More Fight, Less Fuel," that focused on the fully burdened cost of fuel. Addressing the issue means changing the way Soldiers operate at forward operating bases, and even the way weapons systems are designed.

Applying spray foam insulation to a tent can reduce energy costs related to climate control by as much as 50 percent. That was determined though research conducted at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. Also at the NTC, the Army has demonstrated microgrid technology that can better manage and reduce energy consumption at forward deployed locations.

"At an FOB, electricity is generated by a generator," Geiss said. "You fill it up and turn it on and they go 24/7 -- whether you need all the power being generated or not."

With micro-grid technology, generators are linked together and equipped with computer-controlled intelligence. The system is aware of the total power demand and can turn generators on or off to meet that demand.

"If you are turning the generator off instead of running it when you are not using all the power, it's pretty simple," he said. "The savings estimates are 25-40 percent. But you have to have the intelligent systems to do that."

The culture of Soldiers themselves also has to change, Geiss said. He said Soldiers must realize that the price of fuel needed for survival at FOBs is paid not only in dollars, but in lives and mission resources to get it there.