January 05, 2011

Thoughts on the Navy's New Energy Roadmap

It looks like the Navy energy folks have given us all a new year’s gift! Today, the Secretary of the Navy tweeted that he had released a “Energy Program for Security and Independence” (pdf). As is our duty as think tankers, let me walk you through what I think are the most important take-aways for you to note about this document.

It begins with definitions:

SECNAV has set two priorities for Naval energy reform: Energy Security and Energy Independence. Energy Security is achieved by utilizing sustainable sources that meet tactical, expeditionary, and shore operational requirements and force sustainment functions, and having the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet operational needs. Energy Independence is achieved when Naval forces rely only on energy resources that are not subject to intentional or accidental supply disruptions. As a priority, energy independence increases operational effectiveness by making Naval forces more energy self-sufficient and less dependent on vulnerable energy production and supply lines.

This is not your campaigning politician’s “energy independence.” I actually find this to be a pretty bold jab at the current, petroleum-heavy energy supply system that leads us into messes where the insurgents, the Kazakhs, the Russians, and lord knows who else are all actively showing that the status quo completely fails to get us “energy resources that are not subject to intentional or accidental supply disruptions” in Afghanistan. Far, far from it. For this, I liked this document from the start.
The five goals outlined for Naval energy were announced over a year ago now so I won't detail thoughts on them. I’ll just note on the goal to “demonstrate a Green Strike Group in local operations by 2012 and sail it by 2016,” I would like to see a brief, a speech, or testimony spelling out more specifically what they expect will need to happen in that intervening 4 years. That's just about a year from now, so Congress, the rest of the Executive Branch, and the private sector all need to begin learning what to expect.
Check out the breakdown of Department of the Navy (DON) petroleum consumption on page 5. The split in how oil is used today is striking. Expeditionary use is only 1% of Navy petroleum use, but 61% of Marine Corps petroleum consumption. Think about what this implies for DON decisions on where to invest research and development funding: the most important vulnerabilities in wartime may likely be to fueling Marines at forward locations, but that is not the department’s biggest petroleum bill. It’s therefore all the more important that the document names 2 overall priorities with explicit definitions for making decisions on energy reform.
And hallelujah! There is an organizational chart on page 11 for how the DON governs energy. We called for energy org charts for the entire Pentagon in our September 2010 DOD energy report, in order to better facilitate private sector interaction, internal coordination and understanding of the DOD’s energy work, and smoother Congressional relations. This seems like a small detail, but we can’t tell you how many people we speak with, especially on the Hill, who have no idea what DOD is doing at any given time on energy – or even who to call to find out. The Navy actually had its org chart posted online before, but kudos to them for including it here – and for then expanding on the major players in the following pages.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the following:

The driving tenants for DON energy science and technology are:
•    Accelerate adoption of nascent advanced technologies, especially for shore applications;
•    Work with industry to mature and demonstrate new technologies for the near-term; and
•    Aggressively research disruptive technologies for tactical applications that present unique Naval challenges.

For years, Navy energy hands have done extensive (and very impressive) work considering where it should invest in energy technology in order to maximize its warfighting capabilities and ensure that it does not miss game-changers that could give the United States an edge. Where exactly to focus will change over time, but I’m very happy to see these three components made explicit in this roadmap. It’s important for capital investors and private sector innovators to see the words “disruptive” and “near-term” here.

Another big plus: it specifically identifies the need to create strategic partnerships with states (especially those with renewable portfolio standards), utilities and others to accomplish its goals in the most efficient manner possible. It notes that the DON must work with others to take advantage of “programs, tools, materials, and other resources” that partnerships can provide, rather than funding every aspect of its energy goals on its own. I’d just add that it should watch for ways to leverage infrastructure provided through partnerships to meet its energy goals as well. Utilities, private companies, states, and cities have fueling, energy transport, grid technology and transmission infrastructure that can be used to integrate alternative energy and maximize efficiencies quickly.

The one omission that I think would be useful would be a slightly more extensive explanation (a text box maybe) of how the SECNAV’s energy organization intends to work with the CNO’s Task Force Energy and the other services. Rear Admiral Philip Cullom has been a critical leader on energy at DOD for years now. This document states that the “DASN Energy also coordinates with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to assist with planning, programming, budgeting, and executing programs to achieve SECNAV’s energy goals,” and that the DON will “continue to work with” the Army and Air Force. I know the energy offices at DOD have been ever-morphing for years now, but a little bit more detail would be helpful.

Overall, a big nod to the Navy for producing a solid and fleshed-out strategy (page 20 even includes a list of challenges to execution), not just a document full of hollow words and catch phrases. I can’t wait to hear what others think about it...and yes, I’m looking at you, DOD Energy Blog.