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.