The Renewable Energy Opportunity
Robert M. Griffin, SES, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Program Office, U.S. Department of the Navy
TME: Congratulations on your new assignment as Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Program Office for the Department of the Navy. What is your mission?
GRIFFIN: The Department of the Navy has an ambitious and critically important goal to produce or procure 500-MW of renewable energy by December 2014 and another 500-MW by December 2015. The Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO) has been stood up to drive the implementation of that goal.
Investing in renewable energy makes us more energy secure, resilient and eventually, independent. Our installations need to be able to sustain critical missions in the face of an increasingly unpredictable electric grid that is subject to disruption. Energy is key to the success of our installations. Energy security and independence must be prioritized to ensure our installations are operational at all times. The development of renewable energy projects onsite at our installations or off-site, combined wherever possible with smart grid management systems and microgrid applications, will allow installations to continue operation and maintain readiness. It is also critical to build these projects so they are competitive with brown power. Recent cost declines in the development of renewable energy generation will allow the Navy to build renewable energy capacity that makes our installations stronger and more secure in a cost-competitive manner.
REPO has been tasked to work with Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC); Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC); Marine Corps Installations Command (MCICOM) Navy and Marine Corps Regional Commands; and energy industry players like electric utilities and private developers to build cost-effective renewable energy projects. Using land onsite or off-site and working in partnership with electric utilities, REPO will act as the catalyst to coordinate with all parties to drive the construction of renewable energy generation sites. The office also will work with utilities and private developers to purchase cost-effective clean energy generation off-site.
In the near future, the strong foundation of renewable energy will allow for the creation of microgrids, making our bases stronger by ensuring access to power in the event of electrical grid failure from intentional and non-intentional means. The Department of the Navy has a history of innovation—and the success of this mission will require innovative solutions.
Energy security is the latest challenge that we are undertaking, spearheaded through REPO. It will be successful through collective cooperation. Our office was stood up in June 2014 and is already moving quickly to start tackling the goal set forth by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
TME: How do you plan to accomplish your mission?
GRIFFIN: Like some of the other roles I have taken on in my career, this mission is challenging, complex and imperative. We have a strong team with a broad range of skills and talents. And we are backed by the support of senior leadership, starting with Secretary Mabus.
The REPO team will be working expeditiously to educate stakeholders, provide technical guidance, build relationships with utilities and private developers, and support site commanders and regional partners to accomplish the mission.
First and foremost, we will be conducting baseload and resource analysis to determine where there are opportunities to develop projects, how much power is needed, and what source of energy has the best resource and is best-suited for a specific location. It is foundational to the success of this mission to understand our bases’ energy portfolios and the resources that we can deploy.
Concurrently, we are connecting and building the key relationships with electric-generation utilities and private developers. REPO is prioritizing building relationships with these entities because they are critical to the success of any new energy-generation project. Utilities can be involved in the development process as a strategic partner or through a contract like a Power Purchase Agreement. At the very least, the utility needs to be aware a project is being developed in their service territory. As we have these conversations, we often find that we have shared goals and can work together to bring a renewable energy project to fruition.
In July, we hosted a workshop for all the regional stakeholders from CNIC, NAVFAC and MCICOM to get everyone together on a single stage to communicate the message and mission and to set plans in motion to achieve the overall goal. The momentum is now in place to charge ahead.
REPO’s mission is fast-moving. We are working to standardize and streamline the process. Our success will be dependent on how well we coordinate with all stakeholders.
TME: What are the major impediments to mission accomplishment?
GRIFFIN: The first challenge is making sure we find projects that are cost-effective. Solar, wind and other renewable energy sources historically have been more expensive to develop than brown power. But all renewable energy sources have reduced their costs. And more and more, renewables are becoming cost-competitive. Not everyone knows that fact, however, and educating various stakeholders across the Navy and Marine Corps will be essential. Leaders such as Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn, Vice Adm. William French, Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, Rear Adm. Kevin Slates and many others are talking about the importance of our mission and passing the word on through their chain of command. We need to build renewable energy projects to increase our energy security and operational readiness, and we can build them successfully, in a cost-effective manner.
While renewable technology itself has come a long way, in order to become truly energy independent our bases will need to invest in microgrid and battery technology. One of the major benefits of renewable energy is that it is inexhaustible, and essentially free, once the initial generating facility is built. We want to capitalize on that fundamental characteristic.
Consider a tsunami like the one that hit Japan in 2011, which greatly impacted the electric grid of the entire country. In that instance, the Department of the Navy still has a wartime mission and now also has a humanitarian mission, every aspect of which requires some type of energy. Our installations need to be resilient and on-site renewable power that is microgrid-enabled allows us to continue to our military mission and support disaster-relief. We will be working in the coming years to add battery technology to the renewable energy generation facilities installed onsite, to make our facilities truly capable of independent operation.
TME: While a Program Office has been set up at the Department of the Navy, what field offices and senior leaders will be your major points of contact to implement your mission?
GRIFFIN: We will be working with regional offices across the country, in close cooperation with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment), NAVFAC, MCICOM, CNIC and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as well as some international entities. Senior leaders from all of those departments have been actively engaged in our mission.
REPO reports to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Dennis McGinn. The office closely coordinates efforts with leaders, including, Vice Adm. Philip Cullom (OPNAV N4 - Material, Readiness & Logistics); Vice Adm. William French (CNIC); Rear Adm. Kevin Slates (OPNAV N45 - Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division); and Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala (MCICOM), to ensure that stakeholders across the department are engaged in the process and are integral participants in the program’s success.
TME: How does this Navy initiative relate to Department of Defense renewable energy goals and those of the current administration?
GRIFFIN: The mission of REPO is playing an instrumental role in helping to meet both the Department of Defense (DOD) energy generation goals and the order set forth by President Obama. There is backing and acknowledgement from both the president and DOD leaders that renewable energy has a myriad of benefits including making our nation more energy secure and less vulnerable to grid failures and energy failures. President Obama set forth a goal for all of the federal government to consume 20 percent of its electric energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. We are doing this by reducing energy demand, expanding and securing energy supply, and building a more secure energy force for the future.
The Department of Navy will be moving aggressively to meet the goals set out by the president, DOD and through Secretary Mabus. Specifically we have been directed to produce or procure 50 percent of Department of the Navy shore-based electric energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. Currently we get more than 22 percent of our energy from clean sources. Reaching the milestone set forth by leadership will put us on the path toward energy independence—and free from the volatility and uncertainty of manmade or natural threats to our electric system.
TME: What past experience in your career will you draw on to ensure REPO’s success?
GRIFFIN: Throughout my career I have sought out assignments that are complex and need innovative solutions. I have been part of the Senior Executive Service since July 2000. Before heading up REPO, I held the position of Assistant Commander for Acquisition in NAVFAC HQ. I was responsible for the contractual business practices, policy and oversight for the command’s $10 billion contract program. Prior to that, I was Director of Public Private Venture Programs at NAVFAC. The program was responsible for rehabbing and restoring 50,000 homes for servicemen and women, creating new, affordable designs.
In these positions, two key lessons stand out: the importance of having a strong, cohesive team working toward a common goal with a unified message; and the value of the private sector to bring innovation and ingenuity to a mission.
Capitalizing on the talent and competitive nature of the private sector can spur new ideas and solutions to achieve a mission—insight that perhaps we would never have considered otherwise. We will need to employ those lessons and others to be successful in this critical mission.
In my more than 34 years of service, this is one of the most challenging and exciting missions I have had. The “energy” in and behind the REPO effort is invigorating and I am proud to be leading it.
[article first published in the September-October 2014 issue of TME]
Robert M. Griffin, SES, became Director of the Renewable Energy Program Office, Department of the Navy, in June 2014. He is tasked with overall planning, coordination and integration of renewable energy projects to meet Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ goal of 1-GW of renewable energy by 2020. Previously, Griffin was the Assistant Commander of Acquisition for NAVFAC, where he was responsible for oversight for the command’s $10 billion contract program, managing a workforce of more than 950 contract specialists across the globe. Other positions in his career include Director of Public Private Venture Programs, NAVFAC; Director of the Contracts Management Division, NAVFAC; and Director of the Environmental/Service Contracts Division, NAVFAC Western Division. He is a graduate of George Mason University, where he earned a bachelor’s of science in Business Administration.