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Oct 17 2011

Army Launches Ambitious Energy-Efficiency Campaign

Army officials hope to tap the private sector for capital investment and technology that will help the service to become less wasteful of fuel and more environmentally responsible.

“We must preserve access to energy and water so soldiers of the future have the same access to resources as the soldiers of today.” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary for the Army for installations, energy and environment, during an Oct. 11 panel discussion at the Association of the U.S. Army annual convention in Washington, D.C.

A task force set up in August by Secretary of the Army John McHugh is looking at ways to reduce energy consumption — from buying more hybrid vehicles to improving soldiers’ batteries. The Energy Initiatives Task Force is aiming to lure $7.1 billion in private investment over the next 10 years to help pay for green-energy programs, said Hammack.

In fiscal year 2010, the Army’s spent $1.3 billion on renewable energy programs, an effort that has doubled since 2006 when the budget was $668 million, said Maj. Gen. Al Aycock, deputy commanding general of Army Installation Management Command.

“We have a lot of old stuff on our bases and we haven’t modernized and we need to modernize,” Aycock said. “We need to improve our efficiency and expand our production of alternative and renewable energy. But we need a lot of advice” from the private sector.

Reductions in energy and water use at Army bases and installations are progressing toward a “net-zero” ratio of production versus consumption. Fort Bliss, Texas will be the first base to meet net-zero on energy by 2015, said Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division. The post is aiming to be “net-zero” for waste and water by 2018.

Army installations consume one third of the service’s “operational energy” – required to train, move and support troops and equipment in combat.  The other two thirds, $2.7 billion a year, is consumed by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and in support of those wars, Hammack said.

Pittard and his staff have partnered with local utilities to install renewable energy systems at Fort Bliss, where up to 100,000 soldiers and civilians will be stationed by 2014. Plans are in the works to open a series of solar facilities in tandem with gas-turbine generators capable of creating 20 megawatts of electricity each. Fort Carson is on the heels of Fort Bliss to become the second installation to consume less energy than it produces.

“We’re hoping to become the premier net-zero facility in the Army,” Pittard said. “We’re looking for private funding” to achieve that goal. “We’ve got momentum and we’re moving forward.”

Every Army installation will soon have a dedicated energy manager tasked with finding ways to conserve energy and to be a contact for industry officials, said Aycock.

And increasing reliance on hybrid vehicles is cutting down on fuel consumed by the Army’s non-tactical fleet. The service has the third-largest hybrid-electric fleet in the federal government and the largest in the Department of Defense, said  Aycock.

Tactical vehicles could also get a makeover as composite and carbon-fiber materials replace heavy armor and improve gas mileage, said Grace Bochenek, director of the Army Tank-Automotive Center.

Power soldier devices also drives up energy demand. The Army uses 74 different kinds of batteries — ranging from tiny ones the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a brick, Hammack said.

Efforts are under way to reduce the size and weight of those batteries. Plans are in the works also to field portable solar arrays that can charge batteries in the field without consuming fuel.

Gasoline can cost up to $50 per gallon in Afghanistan, where 70-80 percent of convoys transport water and fuel, said Maj. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, Army deputy chief of staff. As many as 18 percent of American casualties are related to ground resupply, Mason said.

A reduced demand for fuel at forward operating bases in combat zones would require fewer convoys, putting fewer soldiers in harm’s way, Mason said. That real-world comparison of fuel efficiency to safety should help change an Army culture that has viewed fuel as “abundant and redundant,” Aycock said.

“We need to tell our soldiers their buddies’ lives depend on energy,” Aycock said. “The less energy they use, the safer they are.”

Mason summed up the Army’s commitment to energy efficiency: “National security depends on energy security.”

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