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Defense Department at Forefront of Energy Conservation, Official Says

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2008 – The Defense Department is constantly looking for ways to proactively conserve and reuse energy, a department official said.

“We’re really leading the nation in looking at energy and considering energy,” Mindy Montgomery, deputy director for investment, Office of the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, said during a teleconference with bloggers yesterday.

Montgomery said that every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oilraises the DoD’s fuel spending by $1.3 billion per year. The department has spent $3 billion to $5 billion extra each year due to the price increase over the last couple years, she said.

But energy conservation does more than help to compensate for rising prices, Montgomery said. It makes operational sense, too, she noted.

“Seventy percent of the convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan are for fuel and water,” she said. “So if we can reduce those, we can reduce all the security assets that go along with all … these convoys.”

While DoD has made progress in energy conservation, Montgomery said, it still has a long way to go.

“Since 2005 we’ve reduced our total energy consumption by 6 percent,” Montgomery said. “On the installation side, since 2003, we’ve reduced our demand by 10 percent.”

Unfortunately, reduced energy consumption doesn’t automatically translate to money saved, Montgomery said. DoD has spent $13 billion in total energy costs since 2005 due to rising fuel costs, she said.

“I’d like to say we’ve saved, but unfortunately, energy costs have gone way up,” Montgomery said. “Even though we’ve reduced consumption, it still costs us more in the long run.”

Montgomery said that some electricity costs have stabilized, which should lead to savings in the near future. Installation-specific improvements also should lead to savings, she said.

To reduce energy consumption at installations, the department created the Power Surety Task Force to focus on combatant commanders’ energy needs, Montgomery said. For instance, in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers were using tents that were worn out and were not energy efficient, Montgomery said. The task force recently found a substance called installation foam to spray on the tents, which is reducing energy consumption by about 30 percent.

“Now, we’re keeping the air inside,” Montgomery said. “By the way, the tents are actually about 20 percent cooler than they ever got with the air conditioning,” she added.

Montgomery estimated that the DoD will save about $400,000 a day and take about 13 fuel trucks off the roads a day as a result of using the insulation foam.

The Department also is looking at more efficient turbine engines for aircraft, more fuel-efficient engines for the next generation Humvee, and other alternatives that may decrease energy and fuel costs, Montgomery added.

“That program is run by the Army tank and automotive command,” she said. “They’re looking at different drivetrains, different kinds of engines, [and] different power systems on the vehicle.”

Montgomery said the task force also has been focusing on modifying technologies and looking for new methods of power generation.

“We actually just opened a solar farm [that produces] over 14 megawatts in Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada,” she said. “We’ve also, for the last 20 years, had a geothermal plant at China Lake [Naval Air Weapons Station, Calif.],” she added. “I want to say it produces somewhere between 180 and 200 megawatts.”

Officials also are looking at expanding its use of geothermal power generation, which uses heat from the Earth.

(Navy Seaman William Selby works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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