Navy Secretary Discusses Energy Use and National Security

By Edward Lundquist at March 11, 2011 09:23
Filed Under: Navy insights

“By no later than 2020, no less than half of all the energy that the Navy and the Marine Corps uses afloat and ashore will come from non-fossil fuel sources.”
- Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus looked back on revolutionary concepts in ship design and construction more than 100 years ago to help spark the imagination of what the Navy needs for the future.

Mabus was speaking at the ARPA-e Energy Innovation Summit at National Harbor, MD on March 2, 2011.

Changes in materials, design and propulsion were seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and perhaps similar in many ways to obstacles challenging designers and engineers today.

“This very week, 128 years ago, Congress authorized the ABCD ships - Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dolphin - the first four ships of the Navy to be constructed completely out of steel. In the 1880s, this was a pretty revolutionary concept because for most people – and I probably would have been in that group in 1880 – it was difficult to get past the notion that steel sinks,” Mabus said. 

“But it was the way that we power our ships that maybe best shows the Navy’s willingness to innovate. In the 1850s, not long before we built the ABCD ships, the Navy changed from wind to coal. In the early part of the 20th century we changed again from coal to oil. In the 1950s, we pioneered nuclear as a manner of propulsion,” he said.

“In every single case, in every one of these cases, there were naysayers that said, you’re trading one form of very proven energy for another form that we just don’t know if it’s going to work. It’s too expensive, it’s too hard, it’s too unproven. In fact, when we went from sail to coal, the uniformed leaders of the Navy objected saying that sail had been proven for thousands of years, what were we doing?”

“Every single time there were naysayers,” Mabus said, “and every single time they were wrong. And I am absolutely confident that as we make our next change - as we lead again in changing the way we power our ships and our aircraft, that the naysayers who say it’s too expensive, the technology is just not there - they are going to be proven wrong again because every time we’ve changed we’ve made us a better Navy. Every time we’ve changed, we’ve been better able to defend the United States.”

“I think that today we’re at the cusp of another one of these changes, one that will move us off of an over-reliance on a very fragile global oil infrastructure and toward alternative and renewable sources of energy. It’s a move that we absolutely have to make because changing the way we produce energy, changing the way we use energy is fundamentally about improving the national security of this country,” he said.

Look at the headlines today, Mabus said.  “All you have to do is look at what is happening in the world. Our dependence on fossil fuels creates strategic operational and tactical vulnerabilities for our forces and makes them too susceptible to supply and price shocks caused by instability or natural disasters in volatile areas of the world where most of our fossil fuels are produced.”

“Now, we would never allow these regions to build our ships. We would never allow these folks to build our aircraft or our ground vehicles, but we give them a say on whether our ships sail, our aircraft fly or our ground vehicles work,” he said.

“The security and the economic costs to the Navy and Marine Corps of using fossil fuels are significant,” said Mabus.  “When the price of oil goes up, the price of defending this country goes up. Every dollar that a barrel of oil goes up in price, the Navy spends $31 million more for fuel. So, if the price goes up $30 a barrel, which it has more than once in the last decade, that’s a billion dollars. A billion dollars that we can’t use for other things, a billion dollars that we can’t budget for, a billion dollars that goes just to power the ships and aircraft and ground vehicles that we have.”
“Now, that’s sort of the strategic and economic argument for change but there’s a different and more personal reason; it’s the Sailors and Marines in the field and how our dependence puts them at risk. In Afghanistan, the thing we import the most – the single thing that we spend the most effort getting to Afghanistan - is fuel,” Mabus said.  “And just think about getting a gallon of gasoline to a Marine front-line unit in Helmand province in Afghanistan. First you’ve got to put it on a ship and go across one ocean - the Pacific or the Atlantic. Then you have to take it either up through Pakistan or down through the Northern Distribution Network, through the Baltics and across Russia. And when you get to Afghanistan, you have to go across the Hindu Kush from the south or the Amu Darya River from the north.  There are huge financial costs associated with it, but maybe, more important, there are huge other costs. The Army did a study that for every 24 convoys we’d lose a Soldier or a Marine, killed or wounded guarding that convoy. That’s a high price to pay for fuel.”

“And we keep those Marines, those Sailors, those Soldiers, those Airmen from doing what they were sent there to do, which is fight and engage and rebuild,” he said.  “So we have to find another way to do this. We have to find a different way to power the things we need to power.”

Five energy goals

“And it’s for all those reasons that, in the fall of 2009, 17 months ago, I issued five energy goals for the Department of the Navy, for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Mabus said.  “The most important one is that by no later than 2020, no less than half of all the energy that the Navy and the Marine Corps uses afloat and ashore will come from non-fossil fuel sources. Also, by that same date of 2020, at least half our bases will be net-zero in terms of energy consumption, and in a lot of cases, those bases are going to be returning power to the grid instead of pulling power off of it.

“I think it’s important though to say that we’re not just changing for change’s sake. Everything that we’re doing is to make us better fighters and to make us more secure. Every time we make a change that improves the efficiencies of our engines or our systems, every time we move to an alternate source of power – every time – we get better and we make people safer,” he said.
 “Now, at sea we’re trying to do some of the same things. One example is the first hybrid ship, what Tom Friedman called the ‘Prius of the seas.’ But if you see it, it’s a big-deck amphibious ship, the USS Makin Island, the biggest amphibious type that we have. It uses a hybrid drive and uses an electric drive for speeds of under 12 knots,” Mabus said.

“And it comes with a lot of benefits. The first thing, on its first voyage from Pascagoula, Mississippi, my home state, around to its home port – it went around South America to San Diego – it saved almost $2 million in fuel. And at current fuel prices, over the lifetime of that ship, it’s going to save a quarter of a billion dollars in fuel,” he said.

“Second, the less time we have to refuel on it or any other ship, the more time we get to patrol, do what we’re supposed to do, giving our commanders a lot more flexibility and a lot more time on station if they need it,” said Mabus.

“And, finally, just by reducing the frequency of refueling operations, we make our ships safer. The Cole was in Aden to get fuel when it was attacked in 2001,” Mabus said.

During his remarks, Mabus stressed the importance of making Marines in the field energy self sufficient, and developing new technologies like hybrid energy storage modules.

“On the seas in the maritime environment, hybrid energy storage modules can provide us with efficient and stable power for our weapons systems and in case of battle damage, they will give us the time we need to get those systems repaired, to get them back online and keep fighting,” he said.  “They’re also a critical step toward solving one of the shipboard integration challenges associated with the development of electric weapons - things like rail guns, things like directed energy weapons. These require huge amounts of power which have to be rapidly discharged to make them work right. Right now we’re working on doing that repeatedly and reliably, and energy storage is a big part of that solution.”

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