On April 5, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the largest renewable energy project in U.S. military history is expected to begin soon at Fort Bliss, Texas. Once operational, the project will contribute to Fort Bliss’ strategic objective of achieving energy self-sufficiency and the Army’s broader goal of using 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.
The Fort Bliss project has received the green light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. El Paso Electric will construct the 20 megawatt solar farm, which will power all of the division headquarters and the eastern sector of the base.
The policy community has given increasing attention to 3D printing, the process of constructing 3-dimensional objects from a digital model by layering materials – from polymers to metals – in an additive manufacturing process. There are myriad applications of 3D printing, from building repair parts to whole homes. Some, including our colleagues at the Center for Climate and Security, have written on the promises of 3D printing to transform global trade and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or to make countries more resilient to climate change by making supply chains less vulnerable to natural disasters.
The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) has been using 3D printers in combat theatres, including Afghanistan, in order to reduce operational vulnerabilities associated with logistic tails. Last November, Wired Magazine reported that “At Camp Nathan Smith outside of Kandahar, there's a 20-foot cargo container loaded with a 3D printer, a computer-controlled machine for cutting metal, and a couple of Ph.D.s. It's one of three REF ‘expeditionary labs’ placed around Afghanistan that can quickly design and prototype tools for troops on the ground right now.”
In this photo, Army researchers at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center experiment with different designs of protective masks for soldiers. Similar types of equipment, like replacement bolts for soldiers' rifles, are already being fielded in Afghanistan through the Army's REF.
Photo: Courtesy of Tom Faulkner and RDECOM Public Affairs.
As the United States rebalances in the Asia Pacific, cooperation around climate adaptation could be a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our relationships with existing and emerging partners in the region. In a post last week I noted a thoughtful piece by Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security that fleshes out how U.S. policymakers should think about integrating climate change into a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, including developing a “Climate Investment Plan” that would encourage the United States to make good on its commitment to help raise climate finance funds that would assist developing countries in adapting to the effects of climate change.
The Climate Investment Plan that Femia and Werrell describe would be an important element of a strategy for the Asia Pacific. But beyond helping raise the funds for these countries to pay for climate adaptation projects, what other opportunities should the United States consider as avenues for cooperation?
One area ripe for cooperation are more science and technology agreements that share lessons learned from U.S. projects that would help our partners navigate engineering challenges or other roadblocks to successfully implementing climate adaptation projects. One project that comes to mind is the New Orleans Storm Surge Barrier. The Science Channel has a great program called “Build it Bigger” that highlighted this project in a recent episode. The idea behind the storm surge wall is to protect the city of New Orleans from another Katrina-size hurricane that could potentially inundate the city again.
The U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command is experimenting with flexible solar cells that could help the U.S. Army save millions of dollars in fuel costs and bolster mission effectiveness by requiring fewer shipments of fuel to remote locations.
“Solar shade produces two kilowatts of power – that may not seem like a lot, but in a remote area it’s perfect because you don’t have to worry about transporting fuel or replacing parts,” Major Tim Franklin told U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs. “You could place this on a remote mountain site to provide power for a radio retransmission site [since] it requires very little maintenance,” he said.
“Because of the overall benefits, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa wants to keep the equipment and have added it to their property books since they plan to use it in other locations and on other missions in Africa,” U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs reported. “The solar shade produces power and gets about 70 to 80 percent blockage of the sun, so the shade is cooler than many of tents or shades used now and it produces clean energy from the sun,” said Franklin.
Given that the solar cells are still in the experimental phase, there is no mention if the technology will be deployed to combat theatres in Afghanistan. Yet the U.S. Army’s investment in and testing of the technology demonstrates their continued efforts to develop alternative energy sources in order to help the military reduce its dependence on the long and vulnerable logistical tether to the energy it requires to complete its missions.
Photo: The experimental solar cells are shown here in Djibouti, Ethiopia. Courtesy of U.S. Army Africa.
Later this morning, John Nagl and I are going up on the Hill where John will join a panel of experts to discuss military fuel convoys, energy for our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and DOD’s need for a long-term energy strategy that moves the U.S. military away from petroleum over the next 30 years (very much in line with the report John and Christine wrote in September 2010, Fueling the Future Force).
In the spirit of the day, I wanted to draw attention to this very thoughtful report published last week by ClimateWire assessing the challenges the U.S. Army is facing with its renewable energy goals in Afghanistan. The report is very good and is worth reading in full if you haven’t already. It reports on the environmental challenges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to adapt to in order to build wind turbines and other renewable energy projects that are difficult to build in the easiest conditions, let alone in a war-torn country. To cite just one example, a 1 megawatt wind turbine the U.S. Army hoped to build to provide power to a new facility for Afghan security forces can’t be built because the facility is remote, and the roads won’t support a crane large enough to construct the turbine. Instead they have opted for smaller 10-kilowatt wind turbines. The challenges of turning the blueprints into reality are not surprising, and this is a theme that runs through the report.
Yesterday, the Army rolled out the names of 17 Army/Joint installations that will participate in its Net Zero Energy, Water and Waste contest. The contest is part of the Army’s broader Net Zero initiative to better manage natural resources at its installations in an effort to reduce the constraints posed by its large energy and water requirements and waste generation. At an October 2010 DOD Bloggers Roundtable, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy & Environment) Katherine Hammack described the initiative, saying that “The primary goal is a focus toward net zero and when we talk about net zero, it's not only net zero energy, but it's net zero energy, water, and waste. When you look at the term ‘net zero’ or a hierarchy of net zero you must start with reduction, then progress through repurposing, recycling, energy recovery, disposal being the last.”
As other services have articulate in the past, better natural resource management – especially with energy and water – can be a force multiplier that maximizes operational capacity and mission effectiveness. According to a December 2010 Army White Paper, “In an era of persistent conflict, with a mission of stabilizing war-torn nations, a true stabilizing factor can be that of appropriate resource management.”
If you can today, thank a veteran for her/his service, or at very least keep America's vets in your thoughts today. Notably, the VA has also launched a new blog - VAntage Point - that is full of good reads.
Happy Veterans Day, everyone!
There was nothing too groundbreaking to report from the Army energy security bloggers roundtable – at least from a national security perspective. Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and the environment seems to have her hands full with just the “installations” part of her job. Most of the discussion focused on energy efficiency, in both existing buildings and new construction.
Hammack’s primary objective for the year is to continue progress toward the “net zero” goal. (A net zero installation, with respect to energy, will produce at least as much energy as it consumes.) Some bases are much closer than others – Ft. Bliss in Texas is one of the frontrunners. Last year, the base reduced its energy bills by 10-15 percent.
Great leaps in energy efficiency often require great investments. Hammack made it clear that her organization, working with the individual installations, is committed to the issue. Significant time and capital has and will be invested. But what about Hammack’s other responsibilities? Energy efficiency on CONUS bases is important, but she (by her own admission) is also responsible for operational energy.
Was the emphasis on energy efficiency indicative of what the assistant secretary is working on day-to-day?
Last night, we hosted a top secret, off-the-record, “this didn’t happen” energy event with government and private sector experts who have a broad range of energy and national security expertise. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as top secret as we’re making it out to be given the fact that we’re touting it on the blog this morning. But for the 42 of you reading this post this morning, certainly consider yourself in the know.
What follows below are some brief thoughts on the future of the military, the Department of Defense and our energy needs. We offer these points up as some food for thought as we take a step back from the event last night and go easy on the writing this morning:
We are all here because we care about energy security – finding reliably available, affordable, and sustainable supplies sufficient to meet our demand. DOD’s energy security is a more complex concept perhaps than that of the rest of the economy: our operations depend on global supply availability, adaptability for use in multiple platforms, and infrastructure resiliency. The ability of our soldiers, sailors and Marines to do their jobs is on the line. And as we were reminded last week by the news of refined fuel being smuggled from our allies in Iraq to Iran, in defiance of new U.S. sanctions, the geopolitical impacts of our current energy system often hit U.S. security and foreign policy interests particularly hard.
In recognition of the new, thought provoking CNAS publications released yesterday ahead of our Fourth Annual Conference, the Natural Security team will be analyzing our colleagues’ work this week on the blog, providing, of course, a Natural Security spin on the reports. Today’s featured report: To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict, by Michele L. Malvesti.
“[Special Operations Forces] are in the midst of a resurgence, with their core capabilities aligning with the irregular and potentially catastrophic security threats of today’s geostrategic environment,” writes Michele L. Malvesti in her recent report, To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict.
When it comes to Natural Security, it may not be obvious how natural resources issues and climate change engage Special Operations Forces (SOF), their interests and core capabilities. But as Malvesti points out in her report, “U.S. Special Operation Forces are ideally suited to help protect and advance U.S. security interests in an increasingly complex geostrategic environment,” including, perhaps, the complex challenges associated with climate change and natural resource issues.
Take climate change in particular. We have reported here on the blog before that SOF already play a role in responding to humanitarian crises in the wake of severe natural disasters, such as tropical storms. In fact, in a previous post here, I shared a Defense Department photo of U.S. Navy SEALs providing humanitarian relief to Filipinos in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana that left nearly a half-million displaced in the Philippines last September.