The U.S. Air Force: Pushing the Envelope: Creating Solutions for America’s Energy Concerns
The economic impact of energy is having a tremendous effect upon America at home and on the job. To combat this effect, consumers and businesses alike are undergoing major transformations to better manage their resources, to rethink their priorities, to more effectively pursue their goals and to enable better decision-making. The U.S. Air Force is no exception to this changing mindset. In some areas it plays by different rules from the private sector, but the Air Force is just as concerned with transformation as any business looking to ensure it is relevant tomorrow. Energy efficiency is a key enabler in this metamorphosis, and the Air Force’s top leadership has a holistic strategy for dealing with it.
Rising energy prices, with their impact on the bottom line, drive how the Air Force operates, particularly with a $7 billion annual energy budget – $6 billion for aviation fuel and $1 billion for facility energy. With this level of resources at stake, sustainability becomes critical, especially when it’s driven by today’s economics. The Air Force is addressing key issues with a new comprehensive energy strategy overseen by the Secretary of the Air Force’s Senior Focus Group for Energy. Its plan incorporates all energy-consuming activities from aircraft acquisition to flying operations and running the installations that support them. The strategy is designed to reduce the Air Force’s energy consumption, carbon footprint and cost of operations while simultaneously eliminating waste. One example of an aviation initiative is the use of simulators to reduce actual flight hours in order to deliver huge energy savings. Another step is considering how much fuel to load onto an aircraft and how much to land with because the additional weight of fuel has an energy cost or energy burden. And, yet another energysaver is the use of synthetic fuels called “synfuels.”
The Air Force’s infrastructure energy strategy (facilities and ground fuels) is part of an overarching approach and accounts for 20 percent of the Air Force’s total energy use (aviation fuel accounts for the remaining 80 percent). This synergistic, holistic protocol is made up of four “pillars” consisting of: improving the current infrastructure, improving the future infrastructure, expanding renewables and managing costs. These pillars include programs of change to extend and to improve the life cycle and energy efficiency of buildings while incorporating sustainability practices to build better for the future.
A Case for a Culture Change
Major General Del Eulberg,The Air Force Civil Engineer, explains why the Air Force’s new strategy and culture change are so critical: “The continued pressure on the defense budget, along with the continued demand relative to Middle East operations, has really put a focus, almost a sense of urgency, on our need to better manage our built environment, as well as our operations. We need to free up resources so that the warfighters in harm’s way have everything they need to conduct operations. For example, saving energy at MalmstromAir Force Base frees up resources to make sure we can get the up-armored vehicles to the Airmen on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a direct linkage between turning that light switch on and off and helping those guys in harm’s way.”
The Air Force’s focus on energy is not new; it’s been imbedded in their DNA since America’s first oil embargo. As a matter of fact, the Air Force Senior Focus Group on Energy received the Presidential Award for Leadership in Federal Energy Management during a special ceremony at the White House on Nov. 2, 2007. The Air Force has a proud history of not only meeting but, in many cases, exceeding Presidential conservation mandates, such as Executive Order (EO) 13123, which required a 30 percent increase in efficiency from 1986 to 2005. This committed effort by the Air Force saved taxpayers $2.9 billion in energy costs. The current Presidential mandate, EO 13423, challenges all federal agencies to change their culture and to become more energy aware in order to meet an even more aggressive efficiency goal of an additional 30 percent by 2015.
So, what’s changed? “I think the link,” according to The Civil Engineer, “is understanding that our installations worldwide, not just our airplanes, are three-dimensional weapons systems made up of the built environment and the natural environment; and all the various components have value that enable us to train our Airmen in peacetime and to conduct operations in wartime. So part of the Air Force transformation is developing a culture shift that requires an understanding of asset management and its linkage to our ability to conduct operations. How we manage 166 installations around the world, valued at $243 billion, impacts how we operate every day. It impacts how we train people, the decisions they make, as well as the associated resource implications. Our transformation is all about understanding asset management, and energy is a key subset of that.”
An Historic Transformation
This is an historic Air Force transformation that holistically and synergistically revolves around the energy-driven components of aviation, the built and natural environment, and ground fuels. Major General Eulberg chairs the group that is responsible for the transformation of the Air Force built environment, natural environment and ground fuels; he reports directly to the Secretary of the Air Force’s top energy management steering group, the Air Force Energy Senior Focus Group. According to The Civil Engineer, “America’s Air Force is very concerned about its obligations to conduct its missions in support of the national defense, and we owe it to the American people to do it as efficiently and as effectively as possible. When you look at the demand and supply side of energy, it is important to address this at every level of the organization. This is not going to be improved by one policy letter from a General in Washington, D.C. This has to permeate every level of the U.S. Air Force, affecting everybody’s lifestyle – how they think every day and how they go about their business in accomplishing their mission.”
The Air Force already has an impressive start on its way to this culture change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Green Power Partnership,” this military branch is already the Federal Government’s No. 1 purchaser of green power and No. 5 purchaser nationwide. In fact, 10 percent of the Air Force’s electricity is from renewable sources. This includes a growing capability to actually produce green power on air bases. The Air Force operates 166 bases consisting of $243 billion in real property with 700 million square feet of facilities worldwide. According to Major General Eulberg, “Our basing strategy allows the Air Force to project air power for our nation. We have gone through two major base realignment and closure (BRAC) actions, and we still have excess basing capacity. We need to close more bases. Short of that, our challenge is how do we shrink our bases, our infrastructure, from the inside out?” Part of this strategy is to find more efficient ways to operate our bases, and the energy strategy is a vital component of the overall strategic approach.
Renewable Energy Diversifies Supply
Renewable energy is a means to shrink a base from the inside. Under its renewable energy strategic pillar, the Air Force is expanding on-base renewable energy production. One example is the use of wind turbines at both F.E. Warren and the Ascension Islands – a total capacity of 4 megawatts (MW) – and the Air Force has plans to expand this approach to several other installations. At Nellis Air Force Base, crews broke ground this past April on North America’s largest photovoltaic (PV) solar array system – 14.2 MW – enough energy to supply upward of 25 percent of the installation’s power needs or the rough equivalent of 2,200 American households’ use. This project was accomplished via a partnership between the Air Force, the State of Nevada and the private sector with no taxpayer dollars. The agreement allows a private company to use land on the base to produce solar power in exchange for 20 years of reduced power rates for the Air Force. The environmental benefits are clear; the project occupies 140 acres on base with 33 acres being part of an old “capped” landfill that couldn’t be used for other purposes without an expensive environmental cleanup. To make things even better, the project will help the State of Nevada reduce its greenhouse gas footprint by 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The project is a win-win for all as it allowed a public utility to meet its state mandate for supplying renewable power to its customers. The array will be complete by mid-December 2007.
In addition, according to Major General Eulberg, “we have examples of using biomass to generate power, as we’re doing at Hill Air Force Base, where we basically use the methane gas off a landfill to generate power. We have an aggressive program to go after renewables because, again, it not only makes economic sense; it gives us energy security. If we can generate this energy on our installations, it’s more secure. We’re pursuing the transition to renewable energy wherever feasible – whether it be biomass, waste-to-energy, wind generation or PV systems. We have examples of all four of those going on right now and lots of options and opportunities for the future.”
The Air Force’s dedication to renewables is apparent by its own renewable energy generation and by its financial support to private industry through direct purchases of green power. Purchasing green power from utility providers costs more per kilowatt hour (kWh) than traditional forms of energy; however, the Federal Government is allowed to do so, with the support of Congress, where it makes sense. This is the Air Force’s means of socio-economic outreach — supporting an industry and a vision to help spur economic development in alternative energy use. Another forward-thinking move by the Air Force is their use of alternative fuels for vehicles, as well as its expanding use of low-speed vehicles on all bases to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Pushing the Envelope on Alternative Fuels
The General was particularly excited and proud when speaking about the Air Force’s use of alternative fuels for aviation. “I’m very encouraged by the increased emphasis on the aviation side of the Air Force on saving energy relative to aviation fuels. And, I’m very proud to say that the United States Air Force is really pushing the envelope relative to alternative fuels in the aviation industry. We had the B-52 test where we flew a bomber with a synthetic fuel blend. The private sector was watching that very closely because if we can use alternative fuels in the aviation industry, using the United States Air Force as the example, the impact to our nation is huge. Not only does it save the Air Force money with less reliance on foreign energy sources, but just think what the economic impact would be for the aviation industry and our nation. This is an exciting area that deserves a lot of attention.”
Renewable energy is new and exciting, but conservation is critical. According to the General, it is the basic “blocking and tackling” of the energy management business. Renewable energy gets a lot of attention as it is technologically very intriguing, but the economic conditions and renewable resources don’t exist in the right combination in all locations. However, in day-to-day operations any facility manager will find opportunities to save money by paying close attention to how energy is consumed by things like the building’s heating, ventilating, air conditioning and lighting systems. Additionally, Air Force budgets for new construction will allow for replacement of only 3 to 5 percent of existing buildings and infrastructure in the next eight to ten years. As a result, this military branch’s primary focus is on improving current infrastructure through increased awareness, fact-based decision management and focused technologies with proven payback. There are numerous examples of energy and water conservation on air bases such as at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, which uses native grasses and other low water-consuming landscaping as well as storm runoff for golf course irrigation. Engineers at Misawa Air Base in Japan completely replaced the lighting in an aircraft hangar. The benefits include reduced energy use and higher-quality lighting for aircraft maintenance technicians. Modernizing and extending the life of existing facilities is an integral part of the Air Force’s strategy and – done right – it can result in better energy efficiency, lower cost and higher-quality facilities for the mission.
As the Air Force shrinks its force by 40,000 people, or about 10 percent, it is critical that the organization come up with new ways to do business and new ways to transform itself. According to Major General Eulberg, “. . . that’s our challenge, as we reduce the number of personnel, we have to be more efficient and effective and transform the way we do business. We have to more effectively manage these 166 bases because as we draw down people, if we don’t change how we do business, then all we’re going to ask our people to do is ‘more with less’ and, for me, that’s a failure in leadership. It’s a retention issue; it’s a recruitment issue; it’s a warfighting issue. Bottom line: We have to do things better than we’re doing them today.
“I think the key is, whether corporate America or the U.S. Air Force, leadership has to set the expectation, create the environment and allow people to succeed. Said another way, you give them the vision; give them the structure; and they utilize their talents to make a difference for the future. And that’s really what we’re trying to do. And, as we change the culture of the United States Air Force, as we think about energy in everything we do, I think we can all benefit as a result of that – the environment, our national defense and our ability to free up resources to do other things.”Issue No. 2, 2008
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