Distributed Energy Editor's Blog
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:45 PM
Cooling a War Zone
As summer rolls in and temperatures rise across the country, many of us are dialing down that thermostat and letting our HVAC systems cool and control our indoor environment. For many businesses and commercial interests, HVAC costs are not insignificant, but when you are the US military—the single largest consumer of energy in the world (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/29925)—the price tag includes not only billions of dollars, but national security concerns and the health and safety of those boots on the ground.
Last week, during an appearance on NPR’s “All Thing Considered,” General David Petraeus’s former chief logistician, Steven Anderson, revealed that on average the US military spends $20.2 billion annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. (http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning). He explained, "When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world—escorting, command and control, medevac support—when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion."
To put that number into perspective, the amount the military spends on air conditioning is:
• Greater than NASA’s annual budget;
• 40 times the federal funding for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting last year;
• 20 times what the Libya conflict is projected to cost by the end of September;
• More than BP has paid (so far) for damage during the Gulf oil spill; and
• Equal to the amount pledged by the G-8 to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.
As Anderson points out in his explanation, that $20.2 billion price tag includes fuel prices and the logistical costs associated with bringing temperature control to a war zone. For example, in order to power an AC unit in Afghanistan, fuel must be first be delivered to Pakistan, then transported 800 miles over Afghani roads that are, according to Anderson, “little more than ‘improved goat trails.’” And there’s risk along every mile of that route; Anderson calculates that over 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which are often targets for attack.
And although fuel costs contribute to the high price of war zone AC, inefficiency also plays a part. Not unexpectedly, battlefield structures—mostly free-standing tents laid out in 125 degree heat (http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2011/06/25/ac.jpg?t=1309037126&s=2)—are not efficient. Tent flaps let cooled air escape, putting an even greater burden on already overtaxed AC units and requiring even more fuel to keep those units running at peak capacity.
In response to a report about his cost estimations in Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/news/iraq_war/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/06/27/wars_air_conditioning), Anderson explained the methodology behind his calculations:
“The short answer to your question is that my calculations are based on the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF), which includes overhead such as route clearance, road maintenance, security/escorts, command and control, medevac, etc. My conservative number is the fully burdened fuel costs are $30 per gallon for Afghanistan and $18 per gallon for Iraq (much better transportation network). When I was the senior staff logistician in Iraq, from August 2006 through November 2007, DLA-Energy estimated the FBCF as $13.44 per gallon, by the way. Deloitte studied the issue in November 2009 and wrote that the fully burdened cost is $45 per gallon when ground transport exceeds 950 miles. In consideration of the fact that most fuel is transported from US to Karachi, then driven over perhaps the most mountainous and challenging roads in the world to one of the two US/NATO Afghan log bases [Kandahar and Bagram], then downloaded to strategic storage, then uploaded to other trucks and moved to the actual requirement (usually in excess of 950 miles total) in hundreds of [forward operating bases] throughout Afghanistan, one can see that my estimate is indeed quite conservative. I low-balled it so that folks don’t think I’m cooking the books somehow.
“However, any fully burdened fuel cost will NOT pick up the cost in blood.”The risk associated with bringing AC to the war zone cannot be understated and is, in fact, indicative of the types of security and casualty issues associated with military energy demands. According to a recently completed study by Deloitte entitled “Energy Security: America’s Best Defense” (http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/AD/us_ad_EnergySecurity052010.pdf), the “increasing mechanization of technologies used in wartime” combined with “expeditionary nature of conflict requiring mobility over long distances” has resulted in an 175% increase in fuel consumption per US soldier per day since Vietnam.
Those long convoys composed of armored tanks and transport vehicles make a perfect target. As the report unequivocally states, “the increasing number of convoys required to transport an ever increasing requirement for fossil fuels is itself a root cause of casualties, both wounded and killed in action.”
So what’s the solution? The Deloitte study does present some “game-changing” strategies, including:
• Reducing fossil fuel dependence, thus reducing the need for fuel convoys
• Widespread and aggressive conservation techniques
• The use of renewable resources, in particular, solar and wind energy within the theater
• Renewable carbon-based fuels generated in theater, such as algae, biomass, and other alternative fuels
• The use of highly efficient electric vehicles
• Nuclear fission and hot/cold fusion
• Fuel cell technology, and other innovations currently being experimented within labs around the world
So what do you think? As I reported last week, the military has been taking a very proactive approach when it comes to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing energy efficiency and reliability (http://distributedenergy.com/blogs/de-editors-blog/camouflage-clean-energy-and-the-valley-of-death-82370.aspx). Are their efforts likely to impact private industry? Does the Doitte report raise the ante by making the link between wartime casualties and energy independence when it concludes that, “Beyond sustainability and economics, this study demonstrates that the development and use of alternative energy can be a direct cause for reductions in wartime casualties, and may rank on par with the business cases for development of ever more effective offensive weapons”? And what do you think of the report’s assertion that “Aerospace and defense firms, their government customers, and research labs around the world are well positioned to accelerate the development and deployment of such technologies”?