September 29, 2010

Murder-Boarding Our New Energy Report: Day 2

We’ll begin today with a critique of our new energy report that a guest raised to me at the dinner discussion on DOD energy that CNAS held on Monday night. In short, this person commented that we did not sufficiently consider what would happen if the petroleum market grows tight to the point that availability is in jeopardy – and that the country has not yet effectively ramped up alternative fuels. In other words, what if the 2040 timeline we propose is too long?

In the report, we tilt toward this, though I admit we are guilty of not extensively considering this scenario. Our recommendation of a 30-year timeline was a result of many factors, including the following:

  • Current reserve-to-production ratios for the world and for friendly countries that we don’t believe are likely to exert leverage over the U.S. government using their petroleum reserves;
  • Discussions with energy producers, including biofuel producers, and with those conducting related basic science, research and development in alternative fuels – all to be sure of the feasibility of providing enough fuel to meet DOD’s energy demands within the timeline we set; and
  • The lifespans of current DOD assets, and its pace of change.

In our “Plan for the Worst” section, we do suggest that DOD prepare for different scenarios in which its transition is too slow, or it misses breakthrough technologies that could enable its energy goals, or takes other wrong turns – but that’s about as far as we went in this particular report. This comment did get me thinking though: this scenario should surely include the negative public reaction to the military getting first access to fuel reserves and supplies.

Moving to another suggestion, this one by Jim Morin (whose words made an appearance here yesterday):

Another part of making this paper a bit more tangible across the range of your audience is to provide more anecdotes and examples. So much of the DOD energy transformation problem is that it cuts across so many different communities, each of whom doesn't fully understand the priorities, constraints and processes. Clean energy developers don't always understand the demands of operational logisticians, base commanders and installation energy managers don't understand the handicap that fossil fuel dependence presents for national energy security and so on. I think anecdotes help these various communities understand and then empathize with each other, making workable solutions a bit easier to find.

We weaved in a few additional examples, as Jim suggested, but not nearly as many as I would have liked. Here I think we fell a bit short of sufficiently explaining the full range of concerns to the broad community of interested parties.

I will keep this in mind for future blogging though, and will make a note of looking for and posting any anecdotes that I think really paint the picture we hoped to convey with the report. In the meantime, I think it’s equally important that these various communities communicate better – and convey the military’s needs adequately to the rest of the government. The GSA, Congress and other agencies have a direct impact on the energy investments DOD makes, and therefore how it operates. Conveying the military implications of their energy choices is critical today, and will grow even more important through an energy transition.