Afghanistan Energy Report

By John Liang / February 15, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Defense Environment Alert is reporting this week that an ad-hoc team of energy assessors convened by the commandant of the Marine Corps is recommending the service make a number of changes to lower the cost and risk of providing energy and water to forces operating in Afghanistan.

The team's recommendations include advice to better match electrical power load to demand in order to eliminate wasted energy, and to exploit local water sources, replacing bottled water shipments. Specifically:

The recommendations were recently released in a report dated January 2011 by the Marine Energy Assessment Team (MEAT), which was tasked in August 2009 to conduct an assessment in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan to determine measures to lower energy and water costs and risks. The commandant directed the assessment in response to the high fuel consumption rates and related costs, along with the high human toll from improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on supply convoys. . . .

After visiting both large and small bases, collecting data on-site and input from leaders, logistics staff and others, the MEAT recommends changes for the near-term (within six months), mid-term (between 6 months and three years) and long-term (beyond three years).

For the short-term, the team makes a number of recommendations. First, the Marine Corps should eliminate the use of bottled drinking water in Marine operations in nearly all of Helmand province, located in South Central Afghanistan, and known as the Marine Expeditionary Brigade - Afghanistan (MEB-A) area of responsibility (AOR). "Over half of the tactical logistics capacity in MEB-A is being used to transport bottled drinking water to forces arrayed in the AOR," the report says. Exploitable water sources exist within reach for forward operating bases and smaller bases and outposts, "yet two months after decisive operations commenced the sole source of drinking water and in many cases the sole source for all water remains bottled water transported at great cost and risk to human life," it says. It recommends evaluating all sites in the AOR to identify exploitable water sources and move forward on extracting the water and making it potable.

Second, in the short-term, the Marines should be more efficient at using spot electrical power generation for smaller bases, for instance by "ganging generators," it says. Ganging generators more closely matches power load to generation, increasing fuel efficiency and wear and tear on the generator, according to the DOD Energy Blog website. The report notes that in many cases generators in the AOR "are not efficiently matched to the demand load."

Third, the report recommends exploring alternative power sources in place of generators for the relatively small loads at smaller bases and operations. Reducing fuel requirements for this would directly lower the frequency of resupplies needed, it says.

And it recommends an information campaign targeted at Marines at all levels emphasizing power and water conservation.

For the mid-term, the report advises reducing demand for energy, particularly at combat operations centers (COCs) without affecting operational capability by assessing lessons learned on reducing in-theater energy and water demand across the military services, and exploring the possibility of reducing the size of COC staffs.

Second, in the mid-term, the Corps should accelerate the fielding of technologies to exploit local renewable power and water resources, which could reduce fuel requirements in the AOR. Third, the Corps should improve its capacity, through for instance extreme resolution digital maps, to plan for the use of local water and renewable energy such as solar, wind or small hydro power sources.

For the long-term, the Corps should work with the private sector, academia and government labs to find creative, highly efficient solutions to meet expeditionary requirements for energy.

The team released initial findings in October 2009, finding that at the tactical level, the most pressing energy-related challenge in Afghanistan has been the transport of water.

Inside the Navy reports this week that despite the Defense Department's commitment to calculate the fully burdened cost of fuel as part of its energy efficient acquisition process, DOD still has no overall estimate for how much it costs to get fuel to forces in Afghanistan, according to David Bak, the lead analyst in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans. Further:

Speaking at a conference Feb. 9 in Washington, Bak explained that determining the "fully burdened cost of fuel," which covers not just the price per gallon but the expenditures required to equip and deploy the convoys that deliver the fuel to its final destination, "is actually technically impossible."

But according to Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, that metric has already been worked into the acquisition process.

"We are making sure that energy efficiency is a part of our acquisition process," Lynn said at a defense environmental awards ceremony in June. "Calculating the fully burdened cost of fuel used by potential weapons systems -- including the costs of securely transporting it to a war zone -- is now a mandatory part of their evaluation."

Speaking last October, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli echoed Lynn's words.

"Already we've taken a significant step to improve our energy security by using the fully burdened cost of fuel as we conduct the analysis of alternatives for the Ground Combat Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Armed Aerial Scout," he said.

According to Bak, however, the main problem holding DOD back from determining that figure has to do with the lack of data collection from the field.

"One of the problems we have in Afghanistan today is we don't collect the data uniformly or consistently about what the fuel burn rate is," he said. "We know how much the Defense Logistics Agency sells to the services, how much is generally used. But the department hasn't done a point of use data collecting or metering by any means -- hardly at all, frankly."