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RMI Helps the DoD with Energy Policy

“Big breakthrough.”

That’s how RMI Chief Scientist Amory Lovins described the Pentagon’s recent shift in thinking about energy use. When buying platforms or devices that use energy in combat, all the Armed Services must now value energy at its “fully burdened cost.” This means the entire cost of delivering the energy—sometimes hundreds of times the fuel’s direct cost—will be counted, rather than assumed to be zero as it was in the past.

Lovins believes the benefits of this change in thinking will be widespread. Entire divisions of military personnel are devoted to delivering fuel and guarding fuel convoys, so properly valuing saved fuel and using it far more efficiently will save billions, ultimately tens of billions, of dollars a year. And since half the casualties in theater are related to convoys, and about 70 percent of the tonnage they haul is fuel, saving fuel will also save lives.

The decision was made in 2007 but couldn’t be revealed until an unclassified report, “More Fight, Less Fuel,” crafted by a Defense Science Board Task Force on which Lovins served, came out in February 2008. The document strongly reinforces RMI’s 2004 findings in Winning the Oil Endgameand previous work about the potential to triple military energy efficiency while making warfighting both more capable and less necessary.

“The military has emerged this year as the leader within our federal government in getting our country off oil,” Lovins said. “They’re going to require, design, and buy platforms—anything that uses energy in the battlespace, from tanks and planes to soldier electronics—based on the fully burdened cost of fuel. In other words, they’re going to value saved energy enormously higher than they did before. We’re now helping to work this into military doctrine, training, reward systems, cultures, and practices, so the Department of Defense will irreversibly focus on efficiency.”

DoD and Energy Efficiency

The Department of Defense is the world’s largest buyer of oil and the nation’s largest single user of energy. In 2006, DoD purchased 110 million barrels of petroleum, costing $13.6 billion, and 3.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—roughly 78 percent of all energy consumed by the federal government. Much of that energy is wasted and could be saved without compromising combat effectiveness.

Also, because of its scale and skills, DoD is in a unique position to innovate and help lead the nation to a post-oil economy. Military R&D can greatly speed massive shifts in civilian technology, as it has done by creating the microchip industry, the Internet, the Global Positioning System, and modern jet engines. Moreover, DoD is already the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy and is driving cutting-edge installations and developments in electricity and biofuels.

But the military’s strongest motivation comes from the direct and immediate costs of energy waste.

“When you have a limited number at the army ‘speartip,’ supported by a vast pyramid of people and equipment, and those few trigger-pullers are tied down hauling or guarding fuel, there’s an enormous penalty in lost combat capability. It’s not just blood and treasure, but also being unable to fight because you’re distracted by fuel logistics. All the field commanders know this. We’ve had Marine generals begging for efficiency and renewables to untether them from oil so they can fight,” said Lovins.

The Task Force also found that the electric grid’s physical and cybernetic vulnerabilities are so severe that all 585 military bases in the United States, as well as those abroad, should shift to “islandable” netted microgrids and on-site renewable power where possible. The report even urges “net- zero installations”—bases and facilities that need no energy from the grid. “It never occurred to me when I wrote Brittle Power—long before the modern Internet took shape—how stupidly we’d use the grid,” Lovins notes. “You can hack into some utilities’ control systems through their billing systems by pretending you’re a customer. And you can then do very, very bad things that don’t just interrupt the power system but destroy it.”

Getting the Word Out

For many years, Lovins has lectured at a variety of military and civilian venues about military energy efficiency’s potential and importance. He believes “endurance” and “resilience” should be seen as two new “strategic vectors”—big ideas that drive the revolution in military affairs. (The four strategic vectors already adopted have been speed, stealth, precision, and networking.)

He has taken this message to the Defense Acquisition University, where all the military’s acquisition officers are trained. He’s also eyeing the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and other centers that form military doctrine.

“Doctrine is sort of like the Constitution,” Lovins explains. “It’s the set of written principles that guide military strategy and behavior. The military is an enormously complex entity. If you want to change the mindsets of the people who make the rules, you go to places like TRADOC.”

But he doesn’t plan to stop with the military. The biggest traction, he thinks, will come when DoD demands more and more efficient platforms and requires its contractors to build them.

Once prime contractors seriously compete over who can build the most efficient tanks, trucks, ships, and planes, military leadership in the technology and adoption of advanced energy efficiency will really take off.Ultimately, it will greatly accelerate the tripled-efficiency cars, trucks, and planes that will get America off oil, so the military needn’t fight over oil. That’s a sound path to a safer world.

Clearly, RMI is fighting the good fight.

--Published Fall/Winter 2008