The US Navy’s top-down structure may provide an effective means of implementing broad, sweeping changes to energy use in one of the country’s largest institutions.
The Naval Postgraduate School’s Energy Academic Group and Cebrowski Institute hosted a five-day training course for Naval officers, senior enlisted and Department of Defense civilians “that seeks to change the Navy’s culture of energy consumption” in late September. The idea is to change the way those in leadership think about energy conservation, efficiency engineering and alternative sources, enabling them to convey that modified perspective throughout the chain of command.
“[Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus recognized long ago that energy was creating an operational vulnerability, and outlined several efficiency goals to reduce fleet-wide energy dependence,” writes Kenneth A. Stewart in a piece on the NPS website detailing the event. “A key component of his effort was the implementation of sweeping cultural change throughout the services, where energy is a part of every consideration and decision.”
There seems to be broad consensus within the US armed services that overreliance on oil is an achilles heel. But many of the military’s operational energy initiatives have elicited fierce criticism, such as allegations that certain programs – such as biofuels investments – are driven by political environmental imperatives rather than energy security, and are forcing the US military to overspend on costly and inefficient forms of energy.
For more on this, see Navy Captain: Biofuels Fall Short of Energy Security Goals
Energy efficiency, by contrast, attracts little negative attention and is “profitable by definition“. And incremental changes in the way a body as large as the US Navy uses energy can result in substantial consumption cuts, a trend that has already taken hold at large companies like Bloomberg and Ikea.
“There’s great potential for efficiency to have an important material impact on military budgets and fuel needs,” Elizabeth Rosenberg, Director of the Energy, Environment and Security program at the Center for a New American Security told Breaking Energy. “Efficiency isn’t controversial, and it doesn’t cost anything, which is true for the military and energy planning in our economy broadly.”
Key quotes from the event:
“I’m in the projected power and lethality at the tip of the spear business … If it gets me reach and increased loiter time on station, then I will care,” said U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office Director Jim Caley. “When it comes to projecting power, you have to have all the fuel you need.”
“I remember that time off the coast of Kosovo when every couple of days we’d have to leave the Adriatic to go out to the Mediterranean to refuel,” said Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness (N4), Vice Adm. Phil Cullom. “We would be off-stage for 12-16 hours, and were useless.”
“Our focus is on the warfighter, a $1 increase in the price of oil equates to a $30 million cost to the Navy,” said Sue Higgins, Deputy Director of the Cebrowski Institute.
“We’re using less oil now than we did in 1973, when the economy was one-third its present size. We’re going farther than ever on each gallon of gas, thanks to federal fuel efficiency standards. The latest set of standards are expected to cut oil use 2.1 million barrels by 2025. That’s more oil than we import from any OPEC country,” wrote Natural Resources Defense Council’s Peter Lehner in a recent post.
But it is also important not to overstate the impact that a single program can have. ”You are not going to change the culture of energy consumption in a week long course,” Dr. Paul J. Sullivan, a professor at Georgetown and the National Defense Universities, told Breaking Energy in an e-mail.
Sullivan argued for an all-encompassing DoD-wide program that lasts several months, and entails site visit, discussions with experts, and more. He said that programs should target people at many levels – not just the top. And he added that more intensive education alone will not be enough to change culture.
“There need to be serious incentives to change things. Improved energy education is necessary, but not sufficient. There needs to be real leadership in energy change. I only see ad hoc changes now and then and no real changes across the services to focus on this issue.” – Sullivan said.
Rosenberg said the program is “a good start, an element of a broader campaign and strategy for implementing greater energy efficiency and conservation in military operations in planning”.
And Sullivan acknowledged that DoD “could be a vanguard on real energy education”. But he warned that that budgetary constraints may limit its effectiveness in the space, and political imperatives – from false dichotomies between environmental and energy security or hydrocarbons and renewables to petty infighting between government agencies – could also be impediments.
Breaking Energy contacted the US Navy for comment on the scope of the program and concrete targets it seeks to achieve. The communications office was very responsive, but the government shutdown makes it highly unlikely that we’ll get the information we’re looking for anytime soon.