November 30, 1999

Read This Now: America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation

The National Academies Press recently released an overview and summary of “America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation,” a study by the National Research Council published last year jointly by National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  Although the report looks at U.S. national energy consumption generally, it makes some interesting recommendations in light of some of the thinking that we’ve been doing on DOD’s fuel use. Look out for our report to be released this fall.

The report’s key findings included three points that are particularly interesting with regard to DOD’s fuel use.  On the first, energy efficiency potential, the report says:

The deployment of existing energy efficiency technologies is the nearest-term and lowest-cost option for moderating the U.S. consumption of energy, especially over the next decade. In fact, the full deployment of cost-effective energy efficiency technologies in buildings alone could eliminate the need to construct any new electricity-generating plants in the United States except to address regional supply imbalances, replace obsolete power generation assets, or substitute more environmentally benign sources of electricity.  Accelerated deployment of these technologies in the buildings, transportation, and industrial sectors could reduce energy use in 2020 by about 15 percent (15–17 quads), relative to current projections, and by about 30 percent (32–35 quads) in 2030.

The Department of Defense has been focused on making its domestic installations more energy-efficient, and in some cases eventually net zero – where it can produce all the energy it consumes on base.  More energy efficiency technologies could provide more options for reaching that low-hanging fruit.

On the other hand, the NAS report also acknowledges that a continued reliance on at least some petroleum is likely:

Petroleum will continue to be an indispensable transportation fuel through at least 2035. Maintaining current rates of domestic petroleum production (about 5.1 million barrels per day in 2007) will be challenging. Despite limited options for replacing petroleum or reducing its use before 2020, more substantial longer term options—including improved vehicle efficiency, use of biomass and coal-to-liquid fuels, and increased use of electric or hybrid-electric vehicles—could begin to make significant contributions in the 2030– 2035 timeframe.

The Defense Department, and especially the U.S. Navy, has been forward leaning in developing long-term, drop-in substitutes for petroleum, including second generation biofuels that don’t rely on food-based feedstock.  The Navy in particular aims to acquire 50 percent of its fuel from alternative sources by 2020 and to sail the “Great Green Fleet” by 2016.  According to “America’s Energy Future” report, this time horizon could put DOD well ahead of the curve when it comes to using alternative energy sources.

Finally, the report examines potential barriers to accelerated deployment of new energy technologies:

Formidable barriers could delay or even prevent the accelerated deployment of the energy-supply and end-use technologies described in this overview and summary and in the AEF series of reports. Examples of such barriers include the level of investment that will be required for widespread technology deployment, the low turnover rate of the energy system’s capital-intensive infrastructure, or the lack of energy efficiency standards for many products. Policy and regulatory actions, as well as other incentives, will be required to overcome these barriers.

As DOD officials have pointed out, the military actually only represents a small portion of the U.S. energy market’s demand, and therefore can’t by itself “make the market.”  DOD will therefore have to find unique and innovative ways to stimulate commercialization (for example, Christine mentioned DOE’s “Innovation Hubs” last week). I don’t want to give away any of our new report’s conclusions, so be sure to check it out this fall for some more ideas on energy innovation within the Department of Defense.  And happy reading!