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Tina Casey headshot

The U.S. Air Force Has a New Energy Plan...Do You?

The U.S. military has been pushing itself aggressively to develop new future energy and resource conservation strategies, and the new U.S. Air Force Energy Strategic Plan underscores just how important a similar plan is for businesses that want to stay competitive in a world of shrinking resources.

In particular, the Air Force energy plan demonstrates that even in cases where an immense budget for fuel is available, all budgets are finite, and the issue is not one of simply providing a passive consumer market for energy producers. What is emerging is a more complex scenario under which businesses generate their own energy on site and/or interact with energy producers to ensure a more nimble, cost-effective and secure approach.

The Air Force and renewable energy

The new plan builds on a number of renewable energy initiatives undertaken by the Air Force during both the Bush and Obama administrations, such as installing utility scale solar arrays on its bases, partnering with SolarCity to install rooftop solar arrays and working with the private sector to develop new high efficiency solar technology.

The Air Force has also been taking advantage of on site geothermal resources, demonstrating the high-performance capabilities of jet biofuel through its Thunderbirds precision flight team, and funding next-generation biofuels research.

Resource recovery and supplier/consumer interaction is also an emerging Air Force strategy for cutting costs and creating a revenue stream, as illustrated by a massive (and growing) biomass and food recycling project at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. Most of the resulting soil amendment is used on the base, including a project to preserve habitat for the endangered checkerspot butterfly, and some is sold offsite.

The new Air Force Energy Strategic Plan

For the military in particular, the notorious "sequester" budget cuts have ramped up the need to find more economical and fiscally stable fuel sources, and geopolitical concerns add another layer of complication to conventional fuels.

On  a more basic level, though, the Energy Plan is coming from a place familiar to us all: uncontrollable price spikes and a long term upward trend in conventional energy prices are can stress even the most liberal fuel budgets.

Another familiar source of pressure is the intense proliferation of energy-consuming devices into more and more areas that were formerly accomplished by food-fueled humans.

With that in mind, the new Energy Plan notes that energy is a "double-edged sword" that creates dependencies and vulnerabilities:

"Energy is critical for the U.S. military’s core national defense mission, yet it is simultaneously a vulnerability to the military’s ability to confront 21st century challenges that are global and increasingly more complex...Transforming the way we use energy – including investing in innovation, and building an energy secure force—is critical to ensuring the  Air Force is equipped to sustain the mission priorities of today while planning for the challenges of the future.”

The Energy Plan also takes into account the importance of reducing energy use as part of a broader greenhouse gas management strategy, and it takes a next-level approach by tying energy conservation directly to water resource conservation:

"Our approach to energy also includes reducing our consumption of water, as the two are inextricably tied. Virtually every source of electricity—whether from coal, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels or even concentrated solar—requires water in some manner…By reducing the Air Force’s demand for energy, it is also reducing the demand for water.”

Elements of a more secure energy future

The Energy Plan outlines four elements of energy security that could easily apply to any business: Reduce Demand, Assure Supply, Foster an Energy Aware Culture and Improve Resiliency.

The first three are self-explanatory, and the "Improve Resiliency" element should be familiar ground to any business that has conducted a thorough emergency planning review, including supply chain and human resources (FEMA's "Waffle House Test" illustrates how a good emergency plan can enable a company to bounce back quickly from natural disasters while others in the same area fail).

One key to resiliency for the Air Force will be an increase in the production of on-site renewable energy along with advanced energy storage capabilities, a goal that closely parallels Apple's data center strategy.

A relatively brief overview of the plan is available on Google Docs, and it's well worth a read, because it also pays a great deal of attention to detailing the management and communications structure that will be needed to ensure that the new policies make it off the paper and into practice.

The plan also underscores the importance of engaging in foundational research and development to ensure future progress, establishing best practices leadership areas of strength, and identifying best practice role models to follow in other areas.

In regard to best practices, the Obama Administration has been developing more resources for businesses including a comprehensive set of modeling platforms such as the Better Buildings Initiative for energy efficiency upgrades and the Workplace Charging Challenge for electric vehicle charging stations.

An Air Force energy plan for everyone

Above all the Energy Plan notes that "energy management is a dynamic process," which means that the most effective plan over the longer term is one that serves as an "adaptive framework" for meeting future goals.

Over and above its application to the business world, that approach could just as easily apply to any household.

[Image: Air Force Thunderbirds by Alaskan Dude]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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