The Military-Industrial-Sustainability Complex

The military may end up being one of green technology’s biggest customers.

December 3, 2012

The U.S. Depart­ment of Defense is spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars on every­thing from advanced bat­tery and bio­fu­el R&D to mass deploy­ment of solar pow­er across bases and mil­i­tary hous­ing. Across the world, mil­i­taries are seek­ing out effi­cien­cy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty solu­tions, both to meet gov­ern­ment man­dates and to pre­pare for poten­tial ener­gy short­ages.

Green tech­nol­o­gy also includes infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy, of course. Take the core mil­i­tary func­tion of logis­tics. Every­one knows that a mod­ern mil­i­tary can’t func­tion with­out abun­dant and secure sup­plies, includ­ing ener­gy. But today’s mil­i­tary is being asked to go deep­er, into exist­ing build­ings, vehi­cle fleets, sup­ply chains and third-par­ty con­tract­ing rela­tion­ships, and to seek out and destroy inef­fi­cien­cies wher­ev­er they occur — all while main­tain­ing their core readi­ness capa­bil­i­ty.

That’s how Dave Bartlett, vice pres­i­dent of indus­try solu­tions at IBM, describes the goals of a mas­sive new project with the U.K.’s Min­istry of Defense. Over the next six­teen months or so, IBM will be deploy­ing its Triri­ga real estate port­fo­lio sus­tain­abil­i­ty man­age­ment 6software, derived from the start­up.

IBM bought Triri­ga in 2011, and has since built on the San Fran­cis­co-based startup’s core real estate port­fo­lio man­age­ment capa­bil­i­ties. For exam­ple, IBM has used its in-house sen­sor and inter­val meter data sam­pling and mon­i­tor­ing tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate a new appli­ca­tion, called Triri­ga Ener­gy Opti­miza­tion, that uses data analy­sis to seek out pre­vi­ous­ly unknown oppor­tu­ni­ties for effi­cien­cy, as well as rank­ing them against one anoth­er in terms of ROI, Bartlett said.

Triri­ga already had a long list of cor­po­rate and retail clients when IBM bought it, and IBM has since used the soft­ware for big­ger and big­ger projects. This year it land­ed a con­tract with the U.S. Air Force to apply the Triri­ga plat­form to its 626 mil­lion square feet of real estate across 170 sites around the world, and it is also lead­ing a con­sor­tium involved in a 50-build­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy project with the U.S. Gen­er­al Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion, the fed­er­al government’s land­lord.

The U.K. Min­istry of Defense is close to the U.S. Air Force in terms of scale, Bartlett said. The British Army, Roy­al Navy and RAF con­trol some 4,000 sites around the world, includ­ing about 900 square miles and 45,000 build­ings in the U.K., as well as bases and prop­er­ties in Ger­many, Cyprus, Nor­way, Poland, Kenya, Cana­da, Belize, Nepal, Oman and the Falk­land Islands.

That makes for a big, com­pli­cat­ed project. IBM and the MOD have until April 2014 to deliv­er a “num­ber of capa­bil­i­ty releas­es,” that is, suites of appli­ca­tions for use in the real world. MOD is also under­go­ing a £7 bil­lion ($11.2 bil­lion) over­haul of its IT infra­struc­ture over the same time­frame, which could lead to fur­ther inte­gra­tion with IBM’s Triri­ga plat­form, Bartlett not­ed.

Stay tuned for more defense con­trac­tors and ener­gy ser­vices giants to get involved in big mil­i­tary base effi­cien­cy projects. The U.S. DOD spent about $15.2 bil­lion on ener­gy in 2010, and while three-quar­ters of that was spent on trans­porta­tion (gaso­line and jet fuel), facil­i­ties still made up the remain­ing quar­ter, or about $3.8 bil­lion in annu­al spend — a big tar­get to tack­le. The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts has pro­ject­ed that U.S. mil­i­tary green spend­ing could reach $10 bil­lion by 2030, includ­ing bio­fu­els, bat­ter­ies, renew­able ener­gy and oth­er tech­nolo­gies.

The mil­i­tary has also been a key backer of micro­grids, tech­nol­o­gy that allows build­ings or bases to stay run­ning on their own pow­er when the grid goes down. Micro­grids are the focus of mil­i­tary projects with part­ners rang­ing from big play­ers like Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Boe­ing, Hon­ey­well and Lock­heed Mar­tin to small­er spe­cial­ty tech­nol­o­gy firms such as Spi­rae andPow­er Ana­lyt­ics (for­mer­ly EDSA).

Mil­i­tary micro­grids can also con­nect back to the util­i­ty grid as well, as long as readi­ness isn’t threat­ened. Philadel­phia-based start­up Virid­i­ty Ener­gy is work­ing with the DOD on demand response, for exam­ple, and start­up Blue Pil­lar has installed its build­ing pow­er sen­sors and soft­ware plat­form for MacDill Air Force Base in Flori­da, allow­ing it to fine-tune its ener­gy man­age­ment to shave peak loads, take advan­tage of unused back­up pow­er sys­tems, and oth­er such tricks of the build­ing-to-grid ener­gy trade.