Friday, April 27, 2012

Could Gamification Accelerate Energy Reduction for the DoD?

On March 29, 2012 Dr. Robyn, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, testified before the House Armed Services Committee about what the Department of Defense is doing to reduce facility energy.  During the testimony, Dr. Robyn provided the following statistics:

The DoD has a footprint three times that of Walmart and six times that of the General Services Administration – 300,000 buildings and 2.2 billion square feet of building space.

Facility energy represents 20-25 percent of DoD’s energy costs and nearly 40% of DoD greenhouse gas emissions.

To reduce these costs the DoD is working to leverage advanced technology and reduce the demand for traditional energy through conservation and energy efficiency.  One of the biggest challenges to achieving energy reduction goals has been lack of good data on building energy performance.  According to Dr. Robyn, “high quality data in building energy performance is the building block for investment and innovation. The biggest opportunity lies in coupling these data streams with advanced modeling technologies and emerging diagnostic tools that can both identify cost effective opportunities to retrofit our buildings and improve their use of energy during operation.”  In response, the office issued an updated metering policy and Dr. Robyn expressed a need to budget for new meters.

The question is, however, are there ways to further accelerate energy reduction?  One of the leaders in corporate sustainability, McDonald's Corporation, found that success is accelerated with employee engagement.  "There is a synergistic relationship between sustainability and employee engagement, in that they support and advance one another.  Corporate sustainability is a common goal that employees can share, no matter where they are on the totem pole.  It encourages them to better their situations and enables them to feel as though they are contributing to their organization on a profound level."

Applying the McDonald’s philosophy of engagement, gamification could provide another avenue to use to motivate people.  A Boulder based company, Simple Energy, is doing just that.  They “designed an online platform that helps users understand their energy use with actionable insights, that scores them against their Facebook friends and that rewards them with real prizes.”  The platform does not need smart grid meters. Simple Energy is a software as a service platform and uses energy use data from the utility.  A critical component to the energy transition that is underway at the DoD is improving use of energy during building operation.  By following the McDonald’s model and integrating gamification platforms to engage DoD personnel, the DoD may be able to demonstrate even greater reductions while building personnel engagement at the same time.

Under the leadership of Dr. Robyn, the office has been leading the development of an Enterprise Energy Information Management (EEIM) system that will facilitate the automated collection of standardized facility energy and cost data.  The EEIM will further provide advanced analytical tools that will allow energy professionals at all levels of the Department both to improve their existing operations and identify cost effective investments.  By using the EEIM vision statement and capability requirements, industry can adapt its commercial off-the-shelf solutions to meet the DoD needs. 

We are on the ACORE’s military defense advisory committee working to facilitate interaction between private industry and the military and smooth the transaction space to expedite procurement processes so that we can help companies interface with the military.    

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Loren Burnett - Founder of US e-Chromic and Speaker at the Global New Energy Summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado April 9-11: Use of Electrochromic Technology on Windows to Cut Energy Use

For the Department of Defense (DoD), installation energy represents a significant cost.  In fiscal year 2009, electricity accounted for 63.64% of DoD energy use, $3.8B (28% of total DoD energy costs) and a disproportionate share of greenhouse gas emissions.  It is critical to the DoD to cut electricity use, not only for cost but for national security.  “Installation energy management is key to mission assurance.”  Dr. Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Installations and Environment. 

The DoD is actively seeking solutions to reduce its energy use and advanced window technology could play a critical role.  According to ENERGYSTAR, heat gain and loss through windows can account for up to 50% of a facility’s heating and cooling needs.  Advanced energy technologies can be used to reduce the need for heating and cooling.

Loren Burnett is founder of US e-Chromic (a Boulder based company) and speaker at the Global New Energy Summit.  US e-Chromic was founded to commercialize electrochromic technology developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to deflect sunlight in the summer and reduce the need for air conditioning.  According to Burnett, “the electrochromic technology used by US e-Chromic LLC uses an electric field to change the tint of a window, allowing users to control the transparency based on the time of day, temperature, or exposure to sunlight.  Today, the current supply of electrochromic windows turn darker in color when activated, consequently absorbing heat.  In contrast, the technology being developed by US e-Chromic LLC reflects sunlight, keeping buildings cooler.  They can be retrofitted to existing windows, potentially reducing cooling costs by 25-30 percent for commercial buildings during air conditioning months.” 

According to studies by NREL, windows that can dynamically change color or reflectivity based on changes in the sun’s intensity or temperature potentially could save 2% to 4% of the nation’s entire energy budget.  These savings are recognized by the DoD.  “Energy efficiency is not just the low-hanging fruit; it’s the fruit lying on the ground, which is all about retrofitting – more efficient boilers, HVAC systems and windows, daylighting and so forth. It’s all that not very sexy stuff, but that’s the name of the game.”  Dr. Robyn, DoD’s Evolving Energy Revolution - An Interview with Dorothy Robyn, PhD, by Rosemarie Calvert (

In addition, the DoD recognizes that they can play a role in proving and helping to commercialize technology.  ”DoD is one of the few organizations, like Wal-Mart, large enough to create energy technology test-beds for its self-interest, which will, simultaneously, speed deployment and commercialization for national benefit. It’s a test and evaluation function with a twist because of its capability to begin a US energy revolution – and it’s already begun thanks to DoD’s keen understanding that national security cannot be separated from energy security.” Id.

Within DoD there are operational and regulatory challenges to commercialization.  With challenge however, comes opportunity.  We are working with ACORE to address some of these challenges in order to streamline the transaction space.  Our country needs to be able to implement advanced technologies and we look forward to learning more about US e-Chromic and next steps for commercial scale deployment at the Global New Energy Summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 9-11, 2012.  To find out more go to

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kirk Sorensen Co-Founder of Flibe Energy and Speaker at the Global New Energy Summit, April 9-11, in Colorado Springs, Colorado – Are Liquid Thorium Fluoride Reactors the Key to Affordable, Sustainable Energy?

Even during the latest political wrangling’s, there is one area where American’s generally seem to agree:  We love our access to energy.  The average household owns 26 electric gadgets that we recharge without a second thought.  But where we get that energy? Well, that’s where viewpoints diverge.  Several years ago Newsweek columnist Roger Samuelson summed it up this way:  "We Americans want it all.  Endless and secure energy supplies; low prices; no pollution; less global warming; no new power plants (or oil and gas drilling, either) near people or pristine places. This is a wonderful wish list, whose only shortcoming is the minor inconvenience of massive inconsistency."

Is our desire for an endless supply of clean energy enough to open our eyes to new business models and new technologies?  Ask Kirk Sorensen, Chief Nuclear Technologist for Teledyne Brown Engineering, Co-Founder of Flibe Energy (“Flibe”), and speaker at this year’s Global New Energy Summit ( in Colorado Springs, and I believe that he’d say that we should keep an open mind about nuclear power and in particular, Thorium.  Flibe was founded on technology to use Thorium as a nuclear fuel to create energy.  Thorium is natural, abundant and inexpensive.  Indeed, Thorium is common in the Earth’s crust, approximately three to four times more common than Uranium.  Thorium energy can be inexpensive and clean if made by a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), pronounced “lifter.”
The primary concern with the traditional approach to nuclear power generation is the use of low-enrichment uranium (LEU) in solid-uranium-oxide-fueled light-water reactors.  These reactors produce significant plutonium from the uranium-238 that makes up 95-97% of the original fuel.  Irradiation produces by-products including other isotopes of plutonium called transuranic nuclear waste.  After years of irradiation, spent fuel rods are stored in repositories to move towards stability.  Reducing the amount of transuranic waste is critical for nuclear power generation.  According to Sorensen, by using Thorium in a fluoride reactor as opposed to uranium in a solid-oxide reactor, it is possible to reduce the amount of transuranic material generated by a very large factor.

Thorium and the fluoride reactor present an entirely different model.  The primary difference is that the thorium is in the liquid fluoride form and is therefore chemically stable. Only products that are generated during operation are removed and the fluid can be continually reused. The ability to reuse is a profound advantage. 
Nuclear energy however, can’t be mentioned without addressing safety concerns. So how does Thorium compare? Sorensen is very outspoken about the safety record of the nuclear industry and emphasizes that the safety record in the nuclear industry is unparalleled.  That safety record, however, is purchased at a price because the safety systems are engineered.  LFTR on the other hand, is passively safe in case of an accident.  In simple terms, the LFTR is equipped with a frozen plug, kept frozen by an external cooling fan.  In the event of failure, the freeze plug in the reactor melts and allows the core salt to drain into a passively cooled configuration where nuclear fission and meltdown are not possible.    

Flibe Energy is currently leading the charge in the design of LFTR technology.  They have proposed to design, develop and demonstrate a small modular liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (SM-LFTR) for the U.S. Military having a design power level of 20-50 MWe.  According to Sorensen, “the SM-LFTR is the precursor to much larger, utility-class LFTRs operating at the 250-300 MWe power generation scale.” Flibe further envisions production of modular units with capital costs in-line with gas turbines.
The benefits to implementation of LFTR technology are seemingly overwhelming.  The technology has relatively small land use footprint compared to energy output, Thorium is abundant and we don’t need much (according to Sorensen a small grain silo of Thorium could power North America for a year and known Thorium reserves could power society for thousands of years), and the technology has built in passive safety – just to name a few benefits.  In addition, however, while LFTR can produce safe, sustainable electricity, lifesaving medical radioisotopes, desalinated water and ammonia for agriculture and synthesized fuels are produced in the process.  In other words, LFTR technology could have other impacts in global energy, medical, agricultural and industrial sectors.

What I haven’t mentioned is that this work is based on Alvin Weinberg’s vision of our energy future as director of the Oak Ridge National Lab from 1955 to 1972.  It’s not a new concept.  Moreover, the Department of Energy has put the burden on industry to lead in the design, development, and implementation of new nuclear energy according to market principles. As attorneys that work with industry to overcome barriers to successful commercialization of emerging technology, we recognize that there are challenges - whether regulatory or otherwise, to deployment and market integration, no matter what the solution is and what the benefits are. We look forward to learning more about Flibe Energy and next steps for private industry at the Global New Energy Summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 9-11, 2012.  To find out more go to