SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. –
While rapid mobilization is a critical capability to project military power in pursuit of national security interests, sustainment technology for warfighters is an increasingly vital necessity. The Department of Defense has been pushing the services to develop their own resilient power generation programs to support ongoing contingency operations and multi-domain battle.
For its part, the Army is continually improving energy resilience and holds an Energy Action Month observance every October to highlight various energy-related projects that secure reliable access to energy, water, and land resources that enable mission readiness.
This also comes at a time when the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent report where it described the consequences of social and economic damage from changes to global climate patterns. The report encouraged aggressive action to promote and utilize clean, green and renewable energy sources and become less dependent on fossil fuels.
U.S. Army Central has actively participated in the U.S. Army Operational Energy Program, which focuses on the energy required to train, move and sustain Soldiers and weapon platforms for military operations.
Karen R. Moore, the Operational Energy manager at USARCENT, said her team supports the warfighter by monitoring and making improvements to how Soldiers train, transport, live and breathe.
“Operational Energy projects improve quality of life for Soldiers by increasing the reliability of utilities to ensure uninterruptable service,” said Lt. Col. Michael Eubank, the Director of Public Works for Area Support Group–Kuwait under USARCENT. “These projects reduce consumption by reducing spot generation, introducing energy efficient technology and increase the reliability of the power grid. It gives us an opportunity to improve resiliency by incorporating new solar technology products, microgrids and energy storage.”
As the DPW, it is Eubanks’ job to understand the components of the program and apply them to the construction design and maintenance of Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Eubanks said the bottom line is to save U.S. taxpayer money, increase mission readiness, improve quality of life for Soldiers and reduce consumption.
“Right now, we are funded to support sustainment, such as utilities, infrastructure and facilities,” Moore said. “Next year, we plan to grow the program to cover ‘train and transport,’ which means participating in exercises and developing training material for our rotational units. Long term, we want to work with other federal agencies to modernize our weapon platform systems in theater in order to have the upper hand on our enemy, allowing the Army to go further into the fight without resupply.”
USARCENT executes the OE mission by implementing it through Idaho National Laboratory, one of the national laboratories of the U.S. Department of Energy, and through the use of deployed expeditionary resource efficiency managers.
Through the assessments and their proposal of new projects, these two groups do the leg work to apply their findings to forward operating bases. They provide scopes of work and Independent Government Estimates to facilitate the proposed OE projects, added Eubank.
“USARCENT has never deployed a centrally managed program that allows collaboration and continuity among a team of operational energy-skilled personnel who can defend projects with strong justifications to build resiliency,” Moore said. “By placing skilled eREMs in theatre and conducting detailed feasibility studies with INL, we have the ability to reach the Department of Defense mandate of being self-sufficient for 14 days.”
It takes a team from INL with mostly doctorate degrees to accomplish the study, and the eREMs are then able to develop the funding requirements and assist in executing the project, Moore added.
Sean Svendsen, an eREM deployed in Qatar, says this mission is crucial to identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in energy supply through coordinated planning and project development.
“We are the USARCENT Operational Energy force on the ground. This embedded and sustained position provides the continuity necessary to fully develop and implement our short and long-term energy resilience requirements,” Svendsen said. “As an enduring presence, eREMs know our installations, personnel turnover, approval processes, and commander priorities. This combined knowledge informs USARCENT’s ability to rapidly deploy appropriate technologies that enhance specific missions.”
“Partnering with the INL engineering team is also essential to continued success. They are invaluable partners and provide systems and electrical engineering support that truly augments an eREM’s ability to address a wide variety of technical issues,” Svendsen added.
OE projects make use of modern and reliable technologies and have allowed USARCENT to not only reduce energy costs but increase mission readiness and improve quality of life for Soldiers on the battlefield.
“In Qatar, the temperature can exceed 50 degrees Celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity,” Svendsen said. “Everything we do to help our Soldiers stay cool and well hydrated improves their quality of life. The solar hydration units provided through the OE program provide shade and cold water. Remote desert locations are especially well served by this technology.”
Svendsen said they work towards reducing energy and water consumption by identifying inefficient equipment and systems. A simple example is replacing high pressure sodium street lights with light-emitting diodes. A more complex OE project may include upgrading an electrical distribution system with the integration of solar and battery systems.
Currently, soldiers eating lunch outside at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, are distracted by a large, noisy diesel generator which emits fumes and drowns out their conversations. Adding solar parking canopies nearby will eliminate the need for the expensive, noisy, and smelly generators, not to mention provide welcome shade for parked vehicles, Eubank added.
In another area, there was a loud generator providing energy to heat water that was located within a few feet of a Morale, Welfare and Recreation center and outdoor seating area.
“You really couldn't sit and talk to anyone because of the noise,” Moore said. “We recommended moving it and installing a solar hot water heater on a nearby hardened structure. The base is going to fund the project and remove the generator permanently. This can reduce the risk and incident of hearing loss with our Soldiers.”
“Earlier this year we demonstrated a solar light cart with a hydration unit option in Kuwait and received Soldiers feedback,” Moore said. “We adjusted the specifications and now have a request for over 200 units going into Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.”
This new technology not only provides Soldiers night time lighting and panic alarm systems, but also powers cooling systems for bottled water, LED lighting under solar panels, benches safe to sit on, Universal Serial Bus ports to charge handheld devices, and an additional storage area for cases of bottle water.
“INL also completed a feasibility study in Kuwait where we identified solar and battery opportunities with a microgrid,” Moore said. “This would allow us to provide redundant power for our critical facilities like our headquarters, military police station, hospitals, etc. These projects will ensure we have power generation to keep our mission and communications operational in case fuel supply lines are cut by our adversaries and reduces fuel consumption.”
“By incorporating renewable energy initiatives the bases will be able to reduce their overall operating and maintenance costs,” Moore said. “For example, one lighting project with a program amount of $3 million will generate a cost avoidance over the next 15 years of $11 million.”
These projects have long and lasting impacts for our military and national security interests, thus promoting education and awareness on this topic is key to harvesting years of energy resilience.
“It is important for the U.S. Army to observe an Energy Action Month because of the need for the force to understand the definitions of what the operational energy program means regarding how and when to apply sound energy efficient decisions,” Eubank said.
“Small things add up to big changes. Something as simple as turning off your computer monitors when you leave your desk has a large cumulative impact. We all can make a difference,” Svendsen added.
The OE program has proven to be fundamental in creating a strong and self-sustaining armed force to support deployed operations and USARCENT is ensuring they support the modern warfighter through renewable energy and operational effectiveness.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the U.S. Army Central website.