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CHIPS Articles: Q&A with Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom

Q&A with Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom
Director, Energy and Environmental Readiness Division Director, Task Force Energy
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2011
"Partnering for a Greener Future"

An energy secure nation is a matter of national security, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus often says. To this end, the Secretary outlined five energy goals. Rear Adm. Cullom is leading efforts to meet several of these goals, foremost of which is an overall change to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in a volatile petroleum market and move the Navy to renewable energy sources. Other energy advances include improved coatings for hulls and propellers and solid state lighting for ships, as well as many environmental conservation efforts.

CHIPS talked to Cullom last summer about the Navy's tactical energy plans and he provided a written update in June.

CHIPS: At the 2011 Sea Air Space Exposition in April, you said that energy efficiency should play an earlier role in the acquisition process. Are you seeing evidence of this in the purchases the Navy is making now?

Cullom: We are working hard to incorporate energy factors earlier into the acquisition process, but it's not easy. A lot of people within the Navy, from all levels of the chain of command, as well as industry, need to be involved. I like to compare optimizing the Navy's acquisition process to NASA's space program.

NASA is able to successfully launch satellites, space shuttles, and even people into space, all monumental and complex tasks, by bringing together all of the players — policy makers, engineers, scientists, and industry — early into the acquisition process to make a corporate decision about which requirements, in terms of mission capabilities, payload, support systems, safety redundancies, and needed thrust, will be prioritized for the mission. I am confident that the Navy can bring that same approach to our acquisition process.

CHIPS: I read about the MIT Sloan School energy study for the Navy and the Leadership Lab project to stimulate the renewable biofuels market by coordinating with producers, suppliers and consumers to identify possible alternatives for accelerating the availability of energy products, examine issues associated with the scalability of emerging technologies, and to analyze prospects for lowering prices for consumers. There are many skeptics regarding the cost effectiveness of biofuels and renewable energy as long-term reliable sources of power, as well as concern that there will not be a sufficient number of providers to ensure a competitive market. Since the Secretary laid out his energy agenda, do you have a better understanding of the ability of the commercial market to meet the Navy's demands? Can you forecast a date where renewable energy alternatives reach parity or cost savings compare to traditional energy sources?

Cullom: As you probably remember, Secretary Mabus laid out his energy agenda in fall of 2009, of which biofuels played a significant part of that agenda. Since then, the SECNAV and OPNAV staffs have been working together to understand all aspects of the commercial biofuels market. We have engaged numerous venture capitalists, private investors and biofuels companies to understand how they feel about the viability of scale up, production, and expected cost in the near and long-term. We've also spoken with end users, such as commercial air carriers and shippers, e.g., UPS, FedEx, about their expectations.

Those discussions were much more encouraging than I would have thought based upon literature available in 2009 when we first looked at this issue. To validate those discussions, my staff worked with MIT's Sloan School of Management to better understand whether the development and production of viable, competitive markets for biofuel is possible. According to the study, which included conservative estimates for increases in conventional petroleum-based fuel prices, the cost competitive point for biofuels, without incentives, would be around 2020. I've had discussions with companies that are likely to be among the first to help facilitate scale up regarding this study, and they agree that the cost competitive point can be achieved far earlier than 2020, particularly if targeted incentives are available to facilitate this scale up.

CHIPS: It is intriguing to think that mundane initiatives, such as improving hull and propeller coatings and hybrid engine improvements, could reduce the Navy's fuel consumption significantly. What other innovations is the Navy working on to power aircraft, weapons systems and ships?

Cullom: The math is the math: the U.S. Navy uses 29 million barrels of oil a year. So if we save only 1 percent a year, from improving hull coatings and stern flaps, we are able to save 300,000 barrels a year — an impressive amount of petroleum saved. Ultimately, 1 percent saved here and there adds up to real barrels and real money. By 2020, these initiatives will add up to 5 million barrels of oil saved per year.

Those barrels saved translate directly to enhanced combat capability on or to the battlefield — either afloat or for naval forces, Marine or Navy, as 'boots on ground.' In fact, I would argue that energy efficiency is combat capability.

Examples of innovative technologies that will be the driving force for improving combat capability include: (1) testing, and ultimately implementation of, hybrid electric drive technology for our DDG 51 class, which will essentially turn those destroyers into the afloat version of a Prius, providing estimated fuel savings of 8,500 barrels per year; (2) development of variable cycle technology, which combines high performance of a military jet engine and fuel efficiency of a next generation commercial core into a single propulsion system, improving energy efficiency by more than 20 percent; and (3) greater consideration of the role of unmanned vehicles, for which ONR (Office of Naval Research), DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and others, are exploring numerous opportunities to power those vehicles in the air, on the surface of the ocean, or beneath the waves. Innovations in the C5I (command, control, communications, computers, combat systems and intelligence) arena may hold other intriguing opportunities, and we are at the beginning stages of looking at this as well.

CHIPS: There is another dimension to conserving energy and switching to renewable energy — environmental stewardship and reduction of greenhouse gases. Is there a way to measure the effects of the Navy's conservancy efforts?

Cullom: Certainly. The most direct way to measure the effects of the Navy's energy efficiency efforts is to consider every energy savings initiative that we employ and evaluate it to determine the number of barrels of oil saved. If we are not burning a barrel of oil, we are not putting greenhouse gases in the air, and so we can calculate by how much our greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced. We know that these calculations will demonstrate significant reductions. For our ships and aircraft, the Navy intends to purchase 8 million barrels of 50/50 blend biofuel and petroleum-based fuel by 2020. We know that greenhouse gas emissions will be less from biofuels that are compliant with Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007, which prohibits federal agencies from procuring biofuels unless its lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are less than those for conventional petroleum sources.

On shore, anywhere we increase efficiency, through use of electric vehicles that receive their charge from renewable energy like solar, wind, ocean and geothermal, we can expect greenhouse gas reductions. Sailors and Marines may start to notice more electric golf carts transiting their respective bases. These golf carts are not just energy efficient but functional. Many have been modified to meet installation requirements, such as including baskets for carrying supplies.

CHIPS: At Sea Air Space, you mentioned the Navy is undergoing a cultural change to meet the Secretary's energy goals. Have you seen an increased effort in the fleet to move to more energy efficient technologies?

Cullom: Culture change is more about operating differently, whether ashore or afloat. More efficient technologies are a piece of this, but it's also the mindset and conduct to be more frugal with energy use. We want our Sailors and Marines to be Spartan warriors — warriors who adopt an energy frugal mindset into their mission planning and training, which will minimize their logistics Achilles' heel, best leverage the significant investments we are making in energy technology improvements, and increase their chances of mission success.

We are changing our energy culture by linking energy consumption to behavior through awareness and accountability at the individual, command and functional level. For example, afloat we are expanding our use of shipboard energy surveys.

Ashore, we are investing in facility management experts and advanced metering infrastructure. These measures provide greater visibility of energy consumption. If we can identify the biggest 'energy offenders' afloat and ashore, we can implement measures to reduce such energy consumption.

CHIPS: You also mentioned the Jevons paradox at Sea Air Space. This theory proposes that technological progress that increases efficiency tends to increase rather than decrease the rate of consumption. Pundits use this theory to argue that energy conservation is useless since more and more technology products are introduced daily and that as developing countries begin to increase use of technologies, quality of life will improve, but the demand for energy will keep growing.

Cullom: The Jevons paradox was proposed in the 19th century and is still alive in the 21st century. However, we can break this paradox. This goes back to my assertion that we must adopt a Spartan warrior ethos — a warfighting mindset to use less, which makes us more agile, more self-sufficient, and less vulnerable.

CHIPS: Do you think the Navy's energy strategy is sustainable over time given changes in leadership and priorities — and a shrinking research and development budget?

Cullom: Our energy strategy is decidedly sustainable, from two different aspects. First, it is sustainable so that we can continue to do our mission over the long haul. If we use energy right, we'll be able to fly farther and sail longer without looking for our tanker or oiler; our energy supply will be more secure; and we'll accomplish our mission without being tied solely to a dwindling finite resource.

Second, we cannot afford not to do these things from a financial perspective. As we've looked at energy futures and the worlds of 2020 and 2030, we realized that if we do not incorporate our energy initiatives now, ultimately, there will be billions of dollars of additional costs to the Navy. We will end up with a great Navy that we cannot afford to operate.

Our energy strategy provides a 'long view' that can ultimately help our Navy and our nation remain strong in perpetuity. Because all Sailors — and the nation I think — want the Navy to remain the most capable Navy, able to answer the call as a 'Global Force for Good.' I firmly believe these efforts will continue.

Department of the Navy Task Force Energy:

Currents, the Navy's Environmental Magazine (quarterly):

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Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom
Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom
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