With the lights going out all over the Pentagon, the Navy’s quest to get the most from every volt is in high gear. Big Navy wants everything possible shut down–and the message is clear: if your command, your installation or your department save enough, rewards will follow. Pressure to conserve will only increase if SECDEF Gates, as expected, moves forward on energy conservation and hires a DOD Energy Czar.

But before earnest Commanders start trying to power-down everything, we need to know more. What, exactly, are we conserving? How thorough has our analysis of savings actually been? Could turning certain things off be, in the longer run, more costly?

My sense is that our analysis of energy savings vs. say, the deferred cost of maintenance or the simple cycling wear ‘n tear on certain systems hasn’t been very thorough.

A tidbit from Captain Bruce Lindsey’s article in the January ’09 Proceedings, “Recapitalizing Too Early,” pushes that point, and unintentionally suggests that fuel conservation, at times, comes with a cost:

“An asset that is cycled more often fails before a similar asset that runs at a steady state for a time period exceeding the MTBF [mean time between failure] limit. For instance, a ship of the LPD-4 class that operates its boilers for six straight months has a lower MTBF rate than an LPD-4 that is constantly bringing its boilers up and down as it completes training exercises…”

And, in a photo caption:

“During operation Enduring Freedom, the Dragonfires of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 29 achieved the highest mission rate ever reached by S-3 aircraft–and double that of any other Navy aircraft. It did this with the second least expensive maintenance costs of any aircraft in the airwing by not completely shutting down the aircraft’s avionics and engines between sorties.”

These are practices that would make the average energy-reduction-czar throw a fit. Of course, it’s all well and good to save energy–and reducing energy consumption is a simple way to cut expenses. And, with the military enjoying the dubious distinction of being the largest energy consumer in the Federal Government, there’s plenty of savings to be had.

But, aside from encouraging Navy-wide compliance with basic, well-documented energy efficiency guidelines, the DOD Energy czar needs to help operators distinguish between smart conservation and…well, simple waste. Somebody needs to sit down and crunch the numbers–did the fuel burned to keep the S-3 aircraft running offset the maintenance savings? What’s the fuel cost of aggressive maintenance?

We simply don’t have a good handle on those numbers quite yet, and we need to. That’s one big reason why DOD needs an energy czar. Let’s save, but let’s also be smart about saving…

Posted by Defense Springboard in Aviation, Navy

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  • I wonder how much energy is wasted by having the military continue to operate bases they no longer want. If Congress really wants the Military to save money, then how about letting the military close down what they no longer want. (for that matter, how about Congress stop telling the Military what they need to order from certain contractors….)

    It is a shame to have to make people paranoid about saving every watt when Congress forces them to operate in a ‘barn with the doors wide open’ and a Congressionally-mandated hole in the roof.

  • Bill

    Cycling the power on electronics (that includes the ‘puter I’m typing on right now) ‘on pupose’ is part of what we lecky types that build military systems know as ESS – Environmental Stress Screening. The objective of the complete ESS test spectrum is to ‘promote’ the failures of ‘weak’ system components prior to delivery of a new package to a ship, vehicle or aircraft. This has proven to be effective in ‘weeding out’ many of those items would suffer, post delivery, from that infamously termed ‘infant mortality’ that electronics in general are known to exhibit. Power cycling is hard on electronics period; much happier being on and left on.

    It brings the chuckle to think that DOD will be ESSing everything under their collective roof…. Yup..sounds like a great cost-saving measure to me. Only the strong will survive.

  • Back in the ’70s and ’80s we went through the same sort of top-down mandated energy saving idiocy. I was the OPS Officer at the Naval Communications Station in Iceland. We were told to reduce our expenditures for heating and electricity. Well, our heating came from the local geothermal plant in the form of hot water. The Icelanders charged us by the square foot, regardless of how much or how little we used. 90 percent of our electricity usage was for powering radio transmitters that were based on operational requirements. Needless to say, every quarter we got a computer generated nasty-gram asking why our utility costs hadn’t been reduced. Some things never change.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    If senior commanders screamed “train your men for combat!” with the same enthusiasm with which they scream “save electricity!”, or “sensitivity training!”, or “TQM!”, or (fill in command-directed issue du jour here)… we would be warfighters.

    Someone in a recent blog mentioned things like this as managing when leadership is required.

    And, Admiral Harvey, this is what we here bloggin’ folks point to as the results of “group-think”. If one could add up the amount of time our officers and enlisted will stand in formation (some multiple times) to hear how they aren’t good enough at saving energy and receive instruction in the new command policies regarding same, then multiply that time by the hourly loaded labor rate of each, the total $$$ of this would buy one hell of a lot of kilowatt hours at wholesale.

  • I could tell a little story about how DOD contractors are mandated to DESIGN LEED-Certified buildings, but…due to a long-standing screw-up in contract language, they’re not obligated to BUILD them…

    But I won’t.

  • pk

    this is a world where you can get killed in the dumb little details.

    for example you have a couple of piers that you haven’t used for some time. but the shore power systems are still energised. its simple, the transformers are energised because that generates a certain amount of heat that keeps them dry. if you shut down the transformers and they get moisture inside of them then when you have to use the pier to berth vessels that are sheltering from a hurricane or some such thing then you can get truly awsome explosions in the transformer vault when you energize (as in launching manhole covers into orbit).

    there is a standard industrial scam foisted upon us by light bulb salesmen on about an 8 year cycle. (uniform types don’t see this as they are rotated on about a 2-3 year cycle.) the scam goes as follows: “if you change out to use our new xxx-zzz high capacity bulb then you will realize a .00x increase in efficiency which will pay for the new light bulbs in 10 years.

    so you do the change ( they don’t mention that you have to rewire all of the buildings, light pole systems…. to accomodate the new bulbs at an extra cost to you or that they make every thing look a horrible purple/green color but…..)

    about the time everything settles down another lightbulb salesman comes along (at about the midpoint of the payoff cycle) and makes the same pitch. of course if you throw him out on his a$$ he goes to the LT, Lt. CDR, CDR, CPT. or congress critter with the whine “my product would save you $xxM per year on your operating costs but your people are resistant to change because they don’t like me, my product…….

    my compatriots and i figured out a long time ago that large computers and nc-cnc machine tools are much cheaper in the long run (electronic repair costs) to operate if they are left turned on and the increased maintainence of the air conditioners accepted as a cost of doing business. we put mechanical ups on some of our nc programming computers that had fly wheels the size of really big endloader tires on them to carry the load when the public works types dropped it.

    then there’s the business about dropping the steam pressure of a hotel (shore steam) system 10% to save dollars. that one dosen’t work either. its about like dropping power from 480v to 460v and wondering why the amperage rises.


  • pk

    and if you’r serious about saving money examine and give someone the horse power to straighten out the dumb situations:

    when ships come into a public ship yard for extended availibilities such as overhauls or other long time happenins they are required to arrive with less than 5% fuel on board. they usually make it with ~7%. then that fuel is removed (they pay someone 1$ [long time ago rates] a gallon to remove and dispose of the stuff as it is actually hazardous waste.)

    that person in return offors the fuel back to them at $.85 a gallon (about 35cents cheaper than any other industrial non road offereing [again long time ago rates] which they jump on for fuel for their portal cranes, standby fuel for their shore steam boilers……)

    an aircraft carrier needs an up grade to the sstg capacity. the turbogenerators are upgraded but need new voltage regulators. oem offers new regulators that are truly bolt in for $800k and are about 18″ cubed. supply provides regulators for $200k that are about the size of coffins and need $1.4m each to install as it involves moving main steam lines…..

    supply defends itself pointing to a “least cost that will do the job.” regulation.

    (possibly a sea story) first spruance class on the west coast has a terrible repair parts availibility problem. the supply officer (a young fellow who has been taken aside and told that keeping the ship in operation is really important to the NAVY by an older fellow who has reallllly stiff cuffs on his blue uniform coat) is subsequently court martialed for buying parts (out in town) that are not in the supply system for his class ship but are on 24 month+ delivery dates and are necessary for the ship to go to sea, and accomplish the various missions. (all carefully documented by both sides of course). [the young supply officer is summarily transfered to the line and the fellow with the stiff cuffs marches into the court martial and tells them to knock off the bullsh$t and crawl off.]

    and on and on and on……


  • Article and proceeding comments opened my eyes to another vector on this thing: unintended consequences. Much appreciated.

    However, despite the US/global economic meltdown and budget pressures at the Pentagon, the desire to cut energy consumption and/or switch to other non fossil forms (when possible) stems more from an “energy security” than a “save money” or tree hugger point of view. The high costs last summer got everyone’s attention, but the volatility of price, and uncertainty of supply (and supply lines: see Afghanistan) are the real drivers.