DoD seeks energy 'nirvana' in priorities

Monday - 10/31/2011, 9:43am EDT

Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, DoD

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The Defense Department is, in many ways, taking the lead on new energy technologies.

But DoD is driven by its own set of priorities in adopting clean energy, namely: it's sky-high energy bills and need to improve security.

Dorothy Robyn, the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris live from the 2011 GreenGov Symposium to discuss DoD's clean energy stance.

Dorothy Robyn, the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, at the 2011 GreenGov symposium.

Robyn said the Pentagon's energy goals fit into three "buckets"

  • Renovating existing installations, which Robyn called "deep retrofits," complete with new roofs, double-paned windows.

  • Expanding the supply of clean energy options. The end goal is to have military bases act as test-beds for new energy concepts. To that end, the department recently announced it's preparing to hand out some $30 million in clean energy grants and that it has been "overwhelmed" by the response from industry.

    "Everywhere you look the military services are being very aggressive in trying to get reneweable energy in place on our installations," Robyn told Federal News Radio from the conference.

  • The third priority is dealing with the security implications of DoD's energy use, which Robyn said can be boiled down the notion of "vulnerability of disruption to the grid."

    "We carry on direct support for the war fighter, so if the grid were to go down for any length of time, we'd need to keep critical missions going," she said. "We, of course, have backup generators, but they're expensive to operate and they pollute. So, we are trying to address energy security on our installations, largely through things like microgrid technology," a self-contained power grid connected to a renewable-energy source, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

The combination of all three priorities would be "nirvana," Robyn added. "We're still at the early stage on this, but we're making a lot of progress."

The problem for many new energy technologies is the struggle to commercialize. Many investors or would-be adopters fear taking a risk on new, unproven technologies. But, Robyn suggested DoD has a role to play in this as well, citing the need to help advance new energy solutions as her highest priority.

"We, with 300,000 buildings, have an interest to take risk to try to help this technology get over that commercialization hurdle," she added.