Reducing Energy at the Department of Defense

by Julie Casabianca, MRP ‘14 (5/4/13)
Julie Casabianca, MRP ‘14

Ms. Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, discusses the challenges in reducing energy use across the Department of Defense (DOD) and in military operations.



As part of the SGE immersion, students traveled to the Pentagon to meet with Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. The office was created three years ago by Congress to provide policy guidance and oversight on the military’s use of energy in order to cut costs, innovate, increase energy security, and reduce risk in military operations. Ms. Burke is the first Assistant Secretary for the office.

BurkeMs. Burke discussed the challenges in reducing energy use across the Department of Defense (DOD) and in military operations, in particular. The DOD is responsible for 1% of US domestic energy consumption, making it one of the largest consumers of energy in the world.  25% of the DOD’s energy use is spent running buildings and facilities across 200 domestic bases, which is heavily regulated by US laws and executive orders. However, 75% of the department's energy use goes towards military operations, which falls outside domestic laws, regulations, and executive orders.  As this energy use is unregulated, there is no current direction on how to manage energy consumption or incentivize conservation in military operations. Ms. Burke's office is tasked with developing the rules for the military's energy use while taking into account the need to fully support and supply each mission, as well as to protect troops from harm.

Some of the major issues Ms. Burke faces include supporting the current fight in Afghanistan with new technologies, understanding the latest innovations and promoting the right types of innovation for the military, and planning for future energy use and acquisition. Ms. Burke talked about the importance of getting buy-in across the department and pointed to the Army Rapid Equipping Force and the US Forces Afghanistan as strong allies in the energy mission. She highlighted several successes in improving energy use, including energy-efficient Containerized Living Units (CLUs), centralized power generation, micro-grids, and on-site solar-hybrid generation with battery and generator backup. Ms. Burke also impressed upon the need for a national energy strategy that will guide future energy planning and be consistent across administrations.

Ms. Burke also discussed the challenges in starting up a new, highly-technical office, including recruiting, collecting and understanding energy data, developing an internal strategy, and harnessing the department’s efforts for continuity. She also talked candidly about her personal experience as a female leader at the Pentagon, as well as her unique and wide-ranging career path. Her advice to SGE students was to focus on your career horizon, but be willing to take different paths to get there.   

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