Energy insights from SECNAV address on energy

Let’s face it, government officials who get prime-time speaking slots at power-industry events usually aren’t invited for their groundbreaking assessments and insights. At the 25th Annual Energy Storage Association (ESA) Conference and Expo in Dallas, May 27-29, 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ address was a refreshing exception.

One point Mabus made should be particularly poignant for this industry. He drew an historical trend line on energy sources for naval vessels. We started with sail (wind), Mabus noted, and progressively went through eras dominated by coal, oil, and nuclear. Now, the Navy’s goal is to achieve 50% renewable sources by 2020 for both its seafaring vessels and naval bases around the world. Part of that effort involves hybrid ships (he likened them to the concept behind a Prius), all-electric ships, and microgrids on bases.

“The limiting factor today is storage,” he said, referring to challenges in achieving the Navy’s ambitious goals. In the meantime, the renewables goals are being met by displacing fossil fuels with biofuels—including algae, bio wastes like cooking oil, and municipal waste—and making use of solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro at land facilities.

He said the military is building 50% of the microgrids today. “Energy is being used as a weapon around the world, and that’s a national security issue,” he stressed, referring to the need to be as self-sufficient as possible. “Our SEAL teams are getting close to being net zero in energy and water consumption.” He also said the Navy would get to the goal of 50% alternative energy use on-shore by next year.

The Navy’s energy appetite is massive and keeps growing, he observed, and cutting fossil-fuel consumption saves huge amounts of money. The US Dept of Defense is the world’s largest user of fossil fuel.

The US military’s “rebalance” to the Pacific is real. “The Navy is ‘presence’ around the world,” Mabus added. Up to 60% of the fleet ultimately will be stationed in the Pacific.

With perhaps some intra-Defense competitive bravado, Mabus noted proudly that the Navy has “always led in technological innovation.” If so, then the stationary power industry can expect to leverage much of that innovation.

Thirty years ago, ex-nuclear Navy specialists began entering the power industry in big numbers and today, an impressive percentage of powerplant managers, operators, and specialists are ex-Navy. Perhaps in a decade or two, those specialists will be permanently stationed shoreside to run all the microgrids some anticipate will be responsible for a significant percentage of the nation’s new generating capacity.

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