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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Thomas W. Hicks

Interview with Thomas W. Hicks
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy)
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2012
Tom Hicks was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy in March 2010. Mr. Hicks serves as the Secretariat focal point on all matters pertaining to the Department of the Navy’s energy conservation, energy efficiency, energy sources and energy initiatives.

Mr. Hicks joined the Department of the Navy from the U.S. Green Building Council where he held several executive roles. As Vice President of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, Mr. Hicks led the development and implementation of all LEED rating systems. During his tenure, he led the three-fold growth of LEED activity as well as the expansion of the LEED family of rating systems from four to 10 unique rating systems.

As Vice President for International Programs, Mr. Hicks led the development of USGBC’s international enterprise quadrupling global activity in LEED in two years. Most recently, he spearheaded a new strategic venture on behalf of USGBC — the Building Performance Initiative — to ensure that all green buildings meet or exceed their energy and environmental performance goals.

Consider that almost 75 percent of the energy consumed by the Navy is used afloat in ships, aircraft and vehicles, and close to 60 percent can be attributed to liquid petroleum-based fuels. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has repeatedly called the department’s reliance on imported fossil fuels a military vulnerability. Mr. Mabus said the DON’s efforts to transition to renewable energy sources are critical to increase energy security and improve warfighting capabilities.

It takes about 1.2 billion gallons of fuel a year to power the fleet, at a cost of $5 billion. With the volatility of the global oil market, the Navy’s costs could fluctuate by a billion dollars — money that would be taken from operations — which means the Navy would fly less, steam less and train less, according to Mabus.

Ashore, the Secretary of the Navy set the goal for commands to increase alternative energy so that by 2020, the DON will produce at least 50 percent of shore-based energy requirements from alternative sources. CHIPS discussed the DON’s energy goals and achievements with Mr. Hicks May 29.

CHIPS: The Department of the Navy has been leading efforts across the Defense Department to reduce reliance on foreign fossil fuels for several years. Can you talk about some of the DON’s important energy milestones to date?

Hicks: Since Secretary Mabus laid out his goals in October of 2009, there are five energy goals, one of which is overarching that the other ones tend to roll up into, and that is by 2020 half of our energy will come from alternative sources. That affects our shore-based operations, our buildings and vehicles, and certainly our fleet. I think in both areas we are achieving significant milestones.

it relates to our fleet, we are in the final stages of testing all of our ships and aircraft on drop-i, 50/50 blend alternative fuel. Back in April of 2010, we flew an F/A-18 [Super] Hornet on a 50/50 blend and it has since gone Mach 1.7, and we have tested at this point all of our manned and umanned aircraft on alternative fuel blends.

recently, in December of last year we tested what is called a landing craft air cushion, or what we like to call an LCAC, on a 50/50 blend and it achieved a speed of 50 knots which we believe is a record for the sea. [The fastest speed demonstrated on the 50/50 algal blend, an algae-derived, hydroprocessed algal oil and petroleum F-76 blend].

So we are going through and testing all of our aircraft and our ships to be able to use alternative fuels. And that is really going to culminate this year at the Rim of the Pacific exercise [June 29-Aug. 3] where we will have a carrier strike group on alternative fuel blends. So we are really excited because that will really be our first operational test of 50/50 alternative fuel blends during RIMPAC. To date all of the efforts have been in a controlled environment. So this will be the first time we are testing outside of a very controlled environment. We also have efforts outside of that.

On our shore side we have again half of our energy coming from alternative solar/wind/geothermal] sources. Another way to restate that when you look at what we are doing is by 2020 we are going to be able to meet that goal — a gigawatt of power from renewable sources. We have set up a task force to identify the installations, strategies, technologies, and the financing around how we are going to do that on or near our installations.

Today we have about 350 megawatts — that is about 75 percent of all DoD’s renewable energy. So we already make up the lion’s share of DoD’s current renewable energy mix, and with this initiative we see adding 1 gigawatt to that as we go forward. Also, just to point out both the Army and the Air Force currently have 1 gigawatt initiatives of their own as well.

Some of the other things that I would highlight as we look to the fleet, for example, it’s not just alternative fuel. We are also putting in a lot of effort to make the fleet more efficient both the new fleet, if you will, the new platforms that are coming online [and older ships in the fleet]. I would highlight the USS Makin Island which has a hybrid electric drive that allows it to go on electric power for about 75 percent of its performance envelope, which is great. We think the hybrid electric drive may have applications in some retrofit situations and we are exploring that today.

We are also installing stern flaps, hull coatings and propeller coatings that make the ships incrementally more efficient, so again it is not just about alternative fuels. There is a lot going on to make the ships we have today more efficient so we can get some additional operational capability out of them.

Switching gears to the Marines, they have had their Experimental Forward Operating Base, ExFOB, starting with the first one in March 2010 that has resulted in about five renewable energy technologies being brought into theater in September of 2010. These technologies were things such as LED lights [and] renewable energy blankets that Marines roll out and charge batteries, and some other renewable energy systems. The result was 25 to 90 percent reduction in their energy use.

Fuel is a very hard thing to bring into theater. We have one casualty for every 50 fuel convoys we bring into theater — that is one Marine killed or wounded. So if we can take more of that fuel out of theater that gives us more opportunities to have the Marines do the work that we sent them there to do and then safely return home to their families. That’s really what it is about.

We are also getting additional capability with that. One Marine company using these technologies saves 700 pounds of batteries which allows them to bring in other necessary pieces of equipment besides batteries. Instead of having a battery resupply when they are out on patrols every two, three, four days, they can now go three weeks without a battery resupply. So it is really great technologies that they are employing.

The Experimental Forward Operating Base is a process and that process continues today. So now we are doing two of those per year, most recently in early May, we did what we call an ExFOB, Experimental Forward Operating Base in Camp Lejeune, and later this year, this fall, we are looking to do another one at Camp Pendleton in California. Those are the ways we can identify new emerging technologies that the Marines can use to save energy.

CHIPS: Are the initiatives for the Marines things that warfighters have said they need or were they identified further up in the chain of command?

Hicks: This whole process was done in conjunction with Marines who came back from theater or are going into theater. We certainly had heard from Marines who said the tether to oil was something of concern to them. It made them less expeditionary and obviously there is a component there, a very serious one, related to protecting the fuel convoys. There are ways to take the energy out of theater and make the Marines more expeditionary and the process that we used, the ExFOB, was one that was fully engaged throughout the entirety of the Marine Corps.

In fact, as part of the very first ExFOB that took place in March 2010, the technologies that held the most promise were then taken to the battalion that was going into theater and they were trained on those. They made some modifications and some tweaks as necessary and then brought those into theater. They did that in September of that same year. Once done the information that came back resulted in all the battalions over there looking for the same equipment because they saw the operational advantages it gave them. Certainly, it saved energy and fuel, but it also gave them operational advantages.

CHIPS: Why do you think critics of the department’s energy goals fail to see the strategic importance of less reliance on petroleum-based fuels and the other initiatives that Secretary Mabus has taken on?

Hicks: Well, I think the thing that gets lost on folks, and we’re pretty clear about it is tat this is not about advancing an environmental agenda. The efforts we have going on are all about enhancing our mission, enhancing our combat capability, and reducing our costs and saving lives. I mean that’s what this is all about. The efficiency gains that I mentioned for the fleet, for example, can allow us perhaps instead of doing an underway replenishment four times a month, maybe we do an underway replenishment three times a month. So that is one extra day a ship might be available to a combatant commander for tasking, one extra day that a ship can be providing assistance to antipiracy efforts or one extra day for humanitarian assistance.

So a lot of folks just don’t understand why we are doing this. It is about combat capability and mission effectiveness [and] reducing our vulnerability to price shock. And that’s the piece of this I’m surprised folks don’t fully appreciate and understand.

This year, in fiscal year ‘12, the Navy as did all the services, each received essentially a $1 billion additional fuel bill. A bill we didn’t plan for, didn’t budget for but nonetheless have to find a way to pay. That resulted from the increase we faced from the price of oil. We saw a $38 a barrel increase in oil that resulted in a $1 billion bill the Navy has. So what is particularly challenging about that is, the way we are compelled to pay for this in the fiscal environment we are in is we have to fly our aircraft less, steam our ships less, maintain our facilities less, and we may have to move some necessary programs to future years. We are going to have to do a little bit of all of those and none of those options syncs up with energy security and national security. It is going in the wrong direction.

So for us, we see the energy efficiency initiatives and certainly the alternative fuel efforts we have underway as ways we can change the course we seem to be headed on.

CHIP: As an early adopter of alternative fuels, has the department been successful in influencing industry development of alternative fuels for a wider market to drive down costs and expand distribution points?

Hicks: That’s a great question, Sharon. As a major consumer of alternative fuels, we burn about 30 million barrels of fuel per year. One of the things we did early on is try to find ways to get alternative fuels in greater quantities and at competitive price points. To the extent that both of those conditions are met, along with the fuels being compatible with our platforms and meeting any legal requirements [Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Section 526], such as the life cycle greenhouse gases [emissions less than or equal to conventional petroleum] we are required to meet, and we really want to spur industry on very much in the way that DoD has accelerated other programs and other technologies in the past.

We see the way to do that is to quickly look to other agencies, specifically USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and DOE (Department of Energy), and by identifying a pretty powerful authority, the Defense Production Act [Title III]. We thought this was an opportunity to marshal our resources together and partner with industry toward the development of multiple commercial-scale alternative fuel plants competitive with petroleum.

This is the effort that we have embarked on for the last year or so. Most notably on May 18 we had an industry roundtable event [Advanced Biofuel Industry Roundtable] at USDA where we had more than 300 people from across industry to really understand what their challenges are and to make a subsequent solid RFP (request for proposal) as solid as it could be so we can get some great responses that meet the criteria that I laid out before.

That is what we have been working and we think has a lot of merit. It is also something that the Defense Production Act, which dates back to 1950, has been used to support the industrialization of many critical defense industries such as steel, titanium, semiconductors, beryllium and radio hardened electronics. We think that alternative fuels is one that we can really help accelerate, and we believe it has strategic benefit to the Defense Department.

CHIPS: Vice Adm. Philip Cullom said the department wants to create Spartan warriors, Sailors and Marines who adopt an energy frugal mind-set into their mission planning and training to reduce the vulnerabilities associated with the supply chain for refueling. Have you seen a cultural change in how personnel view energy consumption? How do you change the culture in an organization as large as the DON?

Hicks: I think you are seeing a change in the culture and a greater appreciation of the cost and how it affects our mission as I mentioned before. [For example,] the cost of fuel that goes beyond expectation that we have to find a way to pay for and how it affects our training, our facilities and programs. We also have some programs that provide incentives for folks which we have done for a number of years. One is our incentivized conservation program. The captains of our ships, if they can demonstrate a savings [in fuel] over what they normally use, are rewarded. [The leading fuel conservers among underway surface ships receive special recognition and cash incentives upwards of $90,000. On average, 100 ships qualify for cash awards each quarter. The award money goes to commanding officers' discretionary funds, which are often used to buy items like damage control gear or to augment the ships' welfare and recreation programs.]

Within the Marines, they are changing their ethos and including energy conservation in training and doctrine. Now, new Marines will be exposed to strategic energy conservation right from the beginning.

Beyond that, the Secretary of the Navy at a visit to the Naval Postgraduate School last September discussed the Navy's energy initiatives and announced the establishment of a new energy major. NPS is the crown jewel of the department’s educational programs that many of our senior l leadership attend so this effort will seed the Navy and Marine Corps of the future with a cadre of energy-minded leaders.

We are also looking to add energy to the Battle "E" Award [given for the overall readiness of the command to carry out its assigned mission]. Battle "E" will be an additional motivation for the fleet to optimize their energy use.

CHIPS: A June 2011 memorandum released by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Mr. Sean Stackley ordered the Navy to "take substantive measures to include energy performance in the acquisition of platforms and weapon systems." The memo mandates the calculation of the Fully-Burdened Cost of Energy (FBCE) and requires the Navy to use FBCE to evaluate the affordability of alternatives and to make trade-off decisions. Also, when considering modernization and upgrades to existing systems, Navy systems commands must factor in energy efficiency. Can you provide any examples of how the directive is being applied to pograms of record or major acquisitions?

Hicks: The memo has had an impact in application to ships in the AoA (analysis of alternatives). It’s true that the Navy’s analysis will now more deliberately consider energy consumption as it relates to future ships, aircraft and other tactical platforms.

For example, in the case of the Makin Island, if it can function like a traditional amphibious assault ship but be more fuel efficient than its brethren, be more available to combatant commanders [because it can operate longer without refueling] that may be a key factor in the Navy’s decision to procure a new ship.

CHIPS: Would you like to expand the discussion on the Navy’s Green Fleet goal?

Hicks: The Great Green Fleet is an important milestone because it demonstrates that it can operate in an operational environment. The RIMPAC naval exercise has more than 22 nations participating over the course of several weeks. As part of RIMPAC, the U.S. Navy has identified a carrier strike group that will use 50/50 alternative fuel blends for two days of RIMPAC. But this is not just important for the Navy and the lessons it will learn. It is a signal to the commercial sector that the Navy is serious and committed to its energy goals, and it is a signal to other navies and countries that we are allied with that we have roles to play in each other’s energy security futures.

Web Links

Secretary of the Navy

U.S. Navy Energy, Environment and Climate Change

Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy Thomas W. Hicks
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy Thomas W. Hicks
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