Q&A With Gen. Chuck Jacoby, Capitol Peak Asset Management

Public-private partnerships to improve energy security for military facilities

Gen Chuck Jacoby

Charles H. “Chuck” Jacoby Jr. is a retired four-star Army general with 36 years’ experience leading military, government, and international organizations. He was the first Army officer to lead the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the organization of the U.S. and Canada that manages aerospace warning and control operations in North America. Jacoby now is a senior vice chairman with Capitol Peak Asset Management, which works to leverage public-private partnerships to invest in critical infrastructure improvements. Pew sat down with Jacoby to better understand ways businesses can partner with the military to improve our nation’s energy security.

Q: How do you define energy security, and why is it important to the U.S. military?

A: The military lives, trains, fights, and projects power from its bases and installations. Assuring mission accomplishment at our bases is critically dependent on uninterrupted and comprehensive energy security.

In order to have energy security, our military facilities and other critical infrastructure, such as ports and industrial plants, must not only have access to a reliable supply of power, but they must have the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet mission-essential requirements. In the case of our military, the base operations and support are dependent on off-site electricity sources that are subject to interruption from natural disasters, terrorism, and sabotage. Energy security also involves removing any opportunity for external threats to military base electricity supply.

Q: How can base-load power—the amount of electricity required to consistently meet minimum demand—from renewable energy improve the security and reliability of the military’s energy supply?

While a base being able to receive and push energy to the local community is efficient and mutually beneficial, military installations must be able to secure themselves and sustain their critical infrastructure and systems independent of the commercial grid. The base-load power must be able to be isolated, supported for indefinite periods of time, and protected for mission assurance.

Given the military’s existing plan to move toward cleaner, zero-emission energy, the importance of a 24/7 base-load on-site renewable power source (working in concert with intermittent sources such as wind or solar) is critical to maintain the readiness and operational requirements of the Department of Defense. If properly configured, a base-load renewable source of power can mitigate or even eliminate the risk associated with blackouts from cyberattacks on the external electric grid.

The military is in the process of transitioning to reliance on clean, renewable energy (especially base-load) while also maintaining its independence from the grid. This is the essence of resiliency: creating an environment where the military can advance its systems capabilities, installations, personnel, and units to respond to any unforeseen disruption and recover quickly while continuing the mission.

Q: Your firm is currently working with Thermal Energy Partners—a geothermal energy company specializing in on-site generation—that has identified U.S. bases at home and abroad that are good candidates for geothermal and waste heat to power projects. Can you explain why geothermal is a particularly promising solution for improving energy security on military installations?

Yes, Capitol Peak has a great relationship with Thermal Energy Partners (TEP), which has the skill set needed to identify geothermal heat resource areas around the globe that can deliver power. Through TEP’s innovation, the geothermal sector of the clean energy market has matured to the point that our military can depend on securely delivered electricity from geothermal power in places that it had not considered previously.

TEP models and develops geothermal heat sources to drive binary cycle-generating technology and combines that on-site generation with a microgrid distribution and transmission system to provide the energy resiliency our military needs to maintain operations 24/7. There are many locations around the world where geothermal heat is available to generate electricity: The U.S. generates the most, with a total of 3,548 megawatts, and the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, Iceland, Kenya, Turkey, Japan round out the top 10. However, there are many more locations that have geothermal heat that our military could leverage.

Thanks to the advances of drilling technology and turbine generator equipment, geothermal power can now be produced at costs that are competitive with traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. For example, the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Annual Energy Outlook report found that geothermal has the lowest cost among all sources for power plants coming online in 2019 and 2020. These technology advancements together with the ability to map geothermal sources, have opened an entirely new methodology for providing our military with a greater degree of energy security.

Advanced geothermal techniques and facilities have all the advantages of other renewable sources while providing many unique benefits for military facilities. Today's geothermal capabilities offer cleaner, smaller footprints; are more reliable and secure; and create less interference with critical systems and other base activities than wind, solar, and biomass. Geothermal facilities are scalable, efficient, and have characteristics and capabilities completely aligned with the department's energy goals and mission requirements.

Q: How are geothermal energy and waste heat to power complementary, and can they be combined to reduce energy consumption and provide critical base-load power?

Absolutely, if you have a particular geographic location with access to heat from both waste heat and geothermal resources, it’s really just a matter of taking advantage of the complementary turbine technology to generate power for a facility. This is becoming more available, especially through the use of binary organic Rankine cycle (ORC) turbines. For example, there are ORC heat recovery systems operating at industrial and other plants converting low-temperature heat sources into electricity, and these systems displace tons of CO2 on an annual basis. Additionally, the same ORC technology is being used to more efficiently generate electricity from geothermal resources.

By combining both waste heat and geothermal, companies like TEP are preparing to use ORC technology to deliver the perfect hedge of base-load electricity on site. This is what the team at TEP provides: the ability for our armed forces to operate independent of the grid. Tomorrow’s military base is looking more resilient and secure.

Q: Have particular states been receptive to or, conversely, imposed policy barriers to such projects?

Actually, almost every state has been very receptive to just about any kind of renewable projects. However, there is more that can and should be done across the country. States have made a lot of progress on incentives for renewables. For example, when you look at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, states such as California, Texas, and Minnesota are among the leaders. All of these state policies and initiatives encourage more public-private partnerships to enhance our nation’s energy security. The way we do this is by allowing private companies with the know-how to take the risk. Our military, as well as critical infrastructure facilities such as ports, benefit directly from this relationship.

Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other projects have all been up and running for years, and that is going to continue, especially with the Obama administration’s emphasis on addressing climate change through clean energy. Specifically, the U.S. geothermal industry is a world leader with over 3,000 megawatts installed capacity—more than any other country—and this number will continue to grow. Forty-three states have vendors supporting geothermal development.

Q: Do you have any advice to offer businesses that believe they have promising energy technologies for the military about how to most effectively identify and pursue project opportunities in the DOD?

I would say don’t take no for an answer. There are many procurement programs through the DOD that provide technology companies with the information they need to register as a vendor, which is the first step. It’s not easy, but that shouldn’t discourage any business because our military always needs a private company to take the lead in these areas. 

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