Uncle Sam Wants YOUR Clean Tech | The Green Economy

Uncle Sam Wants YOUR Clean Tech

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The military is on the cutting edge of energy transformation — not just because they pay a lot for electricity that may be subject to brownouts or blackouts — but because, in forward bases, energy comes at the cost of lives.

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There are three primary objectives that are critical to the Department of Defense:

  • Safety for the lives of personnel in forward bases.
  • Security of homeland and overseas large military bases.
  • Data to analyze, predict and defend from unplanned events such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks.

Safety at Forward Bases

How energy ensures safety for personnel may not be intuitive, but equipping forward bases with gas and electricity is a major point of vulnerability. “Getting fuel to bases is two and a half days in and out,” remarks Colonel Peter Newell, Director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force. Convoys making that trip are an easy target for insurgents, especially the returning trucks that tend to leave on a relatively predictable schedule.


Colonel Peter Newell
Director, Rapid Equipping Force
Fort Belvoir, Virginia

“The expense of moving fuel is about lives. Every gallon we don’t have to deliver is one less battle.” Secondly, he talked about the soldiers on patrol. “What many people don’t know is that military personnel carry between 105-150 pounds on their backs.”

Much of that weight is for communications and IED (Improvised Explosive Device) jammers, which are energy hogs, needing batteries that can weigh up to 27 pounds each. The rest is supplies, such as food and water, for a three day foray.

Some of the items include lighter batteries, batteries with a longer life and/or faster charge time, communications equipment that hold a charge longer, and energy that can be created on-site. Another critical area is climate control. In a country where air conditioning down to 110 degrees is considered ‘balmy’, solar fabrics that deflect the sun and create energy for chillers could be an efficient solution.

Colonel Newell wants to know if a product or approach has added strategic benefits.

“We will be able to remove 3 guys, or get clean digital power, or better images, or you can deliver fuel every 30 days instead of weekly. I may not know exactly how the technology works, but I want it. And that’s a change. We had to get beyond the dollars and cents.”

Security at standing bases


Geoffrey Prosch
Director, Federal Government Relations
Johnson Controls, Inc.

The second area is equipping larger bases, both at home and overseas. DOD (US Department of Defense), with a $4 billion energy bill, would like to see at least 1 gigawatt of renewable energy per service.

Geoffrey Prosch, Director, Federal Government Relations at Johnson Controls, talked about Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California. Johnson Controls entered into an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) to solve several problems at the base.

At the end of an electrical distribution, the base had frequent outages coupled with very high costs. The base saw the need for major upgrades to improve quality of life as well as reduce costs and dependency on local power. All the while, the needed to meet DOD’s budget requirements.


Click to enlarge.

An ESPC means that the military and private finance could work together to meet Twenty-Nine Palms’ goals. The facility owner, in this case the Marines, paid nothing up front. The ESPC pays back private investors with energy savings, which are verified over time. The resulting smaller carbon footprint, along with performance guarantees on any new equipment, provides additional security to the Marines. In the case of Twenty-Nine Palms, using $67 million from the private sector, along with a $4.5 million electricity rebate, the base added:

  • An eight-acre photovoltaic farm,
  • Energy Management System and lighting retrofits,
  • Three new central chiller plants,
  • Upgrades to five existing chiller plants, and
  • A 7 megawatt, dual fuel cogeneration plant that produces power and heat for hot water or heating.

As a microgrid, the base can last for up to 6 days with no outside power, and is ready to accept new buildings that will be tied into the new infrastructure.

Data Analysis

Johnson Controls worked with the Pentagon building in Washington DC, to install a system that monitors the entire 583 acre site: that’s a complex the size of 3 Empire State Buildings. It has 7,748 windows, 17.5 miles of corridors, 1 million calls per day and a fire station, post office, mini mall and heliport. The Building Operations Command Center (BOCC), oversees the Pentagon’s HVAC, IT and other systems.

The green tech facility demonstrated its worthiness in a national crisis during the attack on the Pentagon in 9/11. The BOCC was able to route around the devastated areas, and kept systems working during the disaster and for the weeks that ensued. As Mr. Prosch said,

“The [Pentagon] attack left damage that took a long time to burn out. But everyone came to work for three days with the roof on fire.”

Working with DOD

There have been barriers to working with DOD, many due to its size, complexity and diversity of operations. On the military front, people like Colonel Newell are forging a cultural change that is streamlining the process from innovation to implementation. On the private side, companies that have existing relationships with the military are looking for new ideas to incorporate in multi million and billion dollar projects.

Cultural Change

quoteWilliam Garland is an aide to Colonel Newell, meeting with entrepreneurs at networking events where Colonel Newell seeks out innovation. He and Colonel Newell are after “The innovative guy: someone who can take what is commercially available and help with the transition from the private sector to the needs of the military.”

The challenge they face is that military operations “what is happening on the ground” is moving really fast. Mr. Garland added,

“We’ve never been asked to be efficient; we’ve been asked to be effective. Now we are being asked to be both. Effective in combat, and efficient in power and water.”

Samples of Energy Innovation. Click to enlarge

Samples of Energy Innovation. Click to enlarge

Since the soldier’s focus is on mission, not logistics, there is a lot of educating and training to help ground forces understand how to become more resource efficient. TraDoc (Training and Doctrine Command, pronounced TRAY-DOC) develops educational materials that embed day to day practice into doctrine. Mr. Garland notes that operational flexibility – what the armed forces are doing to meet the challenges of new situations and conflicts – is happening faster than doctrine.

“What the Colonel is trying to do is move mountains. He is building community on both ends.”

By inviting folks from all sides – operations, budget, procurement, training – to sit around the table, Colonel Newell is shortening the information pipeline between requirements in the theater to the decision makers at DOD.

“Right now we witness what’s happening on the ground, and bring it home. That’s first-hand observation that we share with everyone. That is the big cultural change.”

Get Informed

Understanding the military culture and its needs is a critically important first step.

“You need to understand the pace of change,” Colonel Newell said. “I need to know what’s on the shelf both in the army and in industry. And I need to know who is in production and in what quantities.”

He recommends finding military expertise and then getting feedback early. In some cases, minor modifications can make a technology better suited to the military. In other cases, the technology may not be right for one division, but may lead to an introduction where it may be appropriate.

Colonel Newell looks at white papers published through recognized channels, but did not mention any by name. Mr. Garland added that the Rapid Equipment Force Bid page, where firms can submit white papers and proposals, is a good place to start.

For ideas that excited Colonel Newell, there was a solar battery that removed 12 pounds from the soldier’s backpack. They bought a few to make sure they worked, and ended up buying several thousand.  Another was a solar panel at 28% efficiency that weighed 3.8 ounces, and charged batteries faster.

Relationships with larger firms


Robert Kwartin
Vice President
ICF International

Robert Kwartin, Vice President at ICF International added that the best way to approach the military is to build relationships with the major contractors who already have contracts. There are websites [see below] that announce who has won bids, which helps subcontractors see the kinds of skills larger firms will be looking for. “Some connections come straight out of my LinkedIn account”, added Mr. Prosch, who is a veteran himself, and was an Army Secretary for IT, Efficiency and the Environment.


DOD has annual conferences in October and February, and posts other events. [see sidebar] Mr. Kwartin recommends getting a booth. Bring enough staff to check out what other vendors are doing, talk with military personnel, and get feedback on your own products and presentations. He also recommends joining professional associations, and getting involved with committees.

While DOD has lots of need, uncertainty about budgets is what is holding up some projects. Colonel Newell mentioned that he often tells Silicon Valley clean tech companies that they are missing out on a great opportunity. His closing advice is, “Show them a plan that’s ready to ‘rock and roll’ by year-end, and you may be on the military’s hit list.

THE GREEN ECONOMY thanks AGRION. Their round-table, ‘Energy and the Military’ made this article possible.

Helpful Websites

View proposals, get information, see what is out-to-bid.

Rapid Equipping Force BIDS Page
Submit white papers and proposals, find out how to register.

Search for events

Search by geography, size, categories

US Defense Department Contracts Page
Find out who won what bids.

This article appeared in the 2013 Energy Security magazine.
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