How Uncle Sam Helps Clean Energy with VMware and Austin Community College
- Hey. Good afternoon, everybody. I hope you are well. I'm so excited to host this conversation. I wanna thank DIU, I wanna thank South by Southwest, and obviously, Austin Community College for being the hosts, and Josh and Google for being great sponsors. We are gonna have a tremendous conversation today with a lot of leaders from DOD and Pentagon and military service leadership around the innovation that's happening within climate and clean energy for national security and for the Department of Defense. Why is this important, first? Well, it's a tremendous footprint.
My favorite stat, when it comes to DOD energy is, when you add up all the land that DOD controls, it's roughly equivalent to the State of Pennsylvania. It's 42 million acres. They have a huge energy budget, and they're making huge investments and commitments in clean energy and climate action, which we're gonna hear about from these leaders themselves. So I'm first excited to talk to Meredith Berger. As Josh mentioned, she's the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
Meredith, one of the things that I noticed in your Climate Action 2030 document is the line, "Climate success is mission success." So, I wonder if you could just take us a little bit through why that is, how it works and really, what is the Department of Navy embarking on to, one, build climate resilience, and two, reduce climate threat? And how do you see those as interrelated? - So you are exactly right. At Climate Action 2030, and we really put the emphasis on the 'action' in that, as I know that my colleagues do as well, because there is urgent, it is now. It is something that we cannot wait on. And so when we talk about that success, we really talk about readiness. And so readiness is a tricky word sometimes.
It can take on different definitions. But readiness in terms of what we are asking sailors, Marines, civilians, everybody in the Department of the Navy to do what the nation asks them to do. And so as we look towards a critical decade, that is critical because of what science tells us in terms of a climate crisis, critical in terms of what projections look like for the future fight and competition from our military experts, this is where that advantage comes. And so we look at it as a strategic, operational, tactical enabler, and we are looking to make sure that our war fighters, when they engage with someone, that every time they show up with that unfair advantage for everybody else, and that's what we are trying to create.
And so as we look across how to do that in the competition, the conflict continuum, we are looking at how we impact the way that we fight. So, maybe a Marine Corps, and this is true across the Department of Defense, as we talk about climate impacts in the environment, we are talking about impacts to our operational environment. It is the way that we train, the way that we fight if necessary, and that how we go out there and win. And so, as maybe a Marine Corps is out there and there is a world where that environment is more challenged and compromised, you are seeing more impacts to the mission set.
So they are having to respond to more extreme weather events, more humanitarian assistance and disaster relief environments, more disease vectors, more water, less water. All of these things that also impact their ability to respond to that mission set. So the strategy that you mentioned is a place that we are thinking about how to reduce that threat.
I'll give you one example in the operational environment. And so, as you think about fuel, and you think about that reliance on that logistics piece, we want a secure resource, a reliable resource, one that is independent as we keep people focused on the mission, our sailors and Marines focused on the mission. And so when we have advanced technology, when we have better, more efficient fuel consumption, we have reduced emissions that are going into the atmosphere. And so when we have that reduction of emissions into the atmosphere, you have less of a temperature increase, you have less of those extreme weather events, you have less of the impacts that go back to what I was just talking about in terms of the operational environment that increases the demands on our forces. You also have forces that have a shortened logistics tail.
They're operating securely, they have less of a heat signature, they are quieter, and they are more focused on what they need to be doing than how they're going to be able to be supported to do it. And so I...We think about it in that context. Everything is mission first, but there are so many other benefits that come that we have a responsibility to that sustainability for the sailor, for the Marine, for the force, for our dollars, for the way that we operate. And so that's how we are thinking about our climate action.
- I think that's an incredibly important point, that you're deploying clean energy because of the mission ramifications and how it makes sailors and Marines more capable. Talk to me a little bit about that technology innovation side. And you know, I'm aware of some of the initiatives happening within the Navy, but for the audience, hearing about how those next generation technologies are being developed and deployed for the Navy, I'd love to hear a little bit of your thoughts on that. - Sure. On the operational side, we are working hand-in-hand with industry.
We put those requirements out there, and then, especially in an environment like this where there is a lot of innovative thinking going on, we are looking for those people who have the answers, who have the solutions, who have those ways forward. One innovation that we've been able to execute on our platforms is a hybrid engine on a ship called the USS Makin Island, where actually it is able to stay on station longer. It's using fuel more efficiently, which allows those sailors to be able to use the energy where they need it on the ship, stay on the mission that they need to for longer, and keep going forward on what we are asking them to do.
On the shore side, as we think about some of the technologies there, we have incredible, incredible energy resource management available. So thinking of technologies like microgrids, different sources of renewable energy. So not only are we creating redundancy and reliability in terms of that energy source, but we are storing it. And then you have renewable, regenerating energy, which allows for that same end-state effect of independence, security, the ability to operate and stay focused on mission, which is what we need for the people who are defending us. - Absolutely.
I think that's a great point, and I think it's a great transition to Paul Farnan. Paul is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army. Paul, the Army climate strategy, similar to Meredith's and the Navy strategy, has incredibly aggressive commitments to climate and clean energy action. You know, how are you thinking about achieving the size, scale, and speed necessary to meet some of those objectives and goals? And why is it going to make an expeditionary force like the Army's more capable by deploying clean energy to help strengthen Army capabilities? - I'll answer the second part first.
And much, what Meredith just said, as it turns out, what's good for the climate is actually good for the war fighter. If you burn, if you use less fuel, if you burn less fuel, that's less logistics talent you have to deal with. That's less fighting forces you have to use to guard the logistics lines. That's less casualties you're gonna take guarding the logistics lines.
That's more combat forces you can have on the front line doing what they're supposed to be doing. It's longer on station time, as Meredith mentioned. It's our tanks and other vehicles can go farther without having to come back to the supply depot to refuel.
Meredith mentioned the silence and the lack of heat signatures. We're able to do silent overwatch. As it turns out, a lot of tanks and other combat vehicles, they spend a good time, a part of their time on the battlefield just sitting, not actually moving, but sitting there doing reconnaissance, communications and other tasks. But because everything's electrified, whether it's radios, radars, night vision goggles, you have to have run the engine to be able to power those systems. If we have even just a hybridized system, we can turn the engine off. That reduces the thermal signature and the acoustic signature, and those are the two ways the enemy finds you and shoots you.
So not only are we increasing our capabilities, we're better protecting our soldiers by doing that. On the installation side, we need resilient installations here at home. So I didn't know this before I started this job, but every Army base in the country, we get our electricity just like everybody else does in their homes. We get it from the power grid, and the local utility runs the power line onto our bases. That's where we get our electricity from.
We are now in a contested homeland. Normally, you know, throughout history, the war starts overseas. I mean, European or Asian battlefields, we train the troops here, we fly 'em or sail over to the battlefield and that's where the battle starts. Not anymore. We've never fought a war in a contested homeland before, but we will never fight another war that's not in a contested homeland. If, god forbid, we ever went to war with Russia or China or some other adversary, there's gonna be some kind of cyber attack here.
The grid's going down. And it's not just gonna be a power failure for a few hours, it's gonna be a power failure for days or weeks or maybe even months. Our forces still need to be oper...to operate without that electricity coming from the grid, because they have got to get all their equipment together and get out of the fort and get over to where the battlefield is. So we need that energy on our installations to be able to power it when the grid's not.
So what, what kind of generation, what kind of power do you use? You need something that's completely self-contained. Anything that comes from outside of the gate of the base is vulnerable. A lot of people use diesel generators for backup power. We use a lot of diesel generators for backup power, which is great. And we keep about five or seven days supply of diesel fuel on base.
What happens on day eight? You've got no more diesel fuel on base. Anyone that's been through a hurricane? This is Texas, you guys get hurricanes. Power goes out for a few days. Can you go to the gas station and get gas? No. You can't pump gasoline without electricity. So even diesel generators is not a reliable form of backup power. You need something kind of completely self-contained.
What is the best technology that's completely self-contained? Renewable energy. Solar power and wind turbines. It's right there on base using battery storage and microgrid technology. We can connect it to our mission critical systems so we can still operate. The grid can go down. We are using renewable energy to protect the climate.
Yes, it is a climate strategy. We're gonna reduce our emissions, we're gonna meet the President's goals. But all of this is increasing our capability of a fighting force. - Yeah, that's great, Paul. I think an important note is, you know, this is a re-understanding of what the battlefield is, you know. There was once a time where war was over there and, you know, sustainment and readiness was here.
But today, we have created an incredibly networked force, one that requires uninterrupted access to critical infrastructure in order to operate. And so my former boss, who was in your role for the Air force, she said, you know, "You can disrupt the grid, "you can stop the natural gas system from operating "as we've seen in recent years. "But nobody's ever figured out "how to stop the sun from shining "or stop the wind from blowing." And I think that that's a really important point and one that I think turning to Andrew Higier, who's the Director of the Energy Portfolio for Defense Innovation Unit. Andrew, you know, we're surrounded here at South by Southwest with some of the most exciting and innovative technology companies.
And I think clean energy and climate are really probably the most exciting innovation sectors for the American economy today. And so your role at DIU, and DIU's mission is about accelerating that commercial adoption to help Meredith and Paul achieve their goals. So how does that work? And for startups and entrepreneurs in the audience, like, how does one work with DIU to bring about some of those things? - Yeah. Thanks, Mike.
And thanks to Meredith and Paul for the great answers there. DIU is uniquely positioned in the Department of Defense because we sit in between the private sector and the DOD. In fact, some people don't actually know where we actually are. We are a part of the DOD.
We are not part of the private sector. But there's a reason, you said it, there's a lot of going on here in Austin. There's a reason we have an office here in Austin. Our headquarters is in Silicon Valley. We had an office in Boston, of course in DC, and our newest in Chicago. We are trying to be located where the tech hubs of the country are.
And the reason we do that is because it's our job at DIU to get after the problems that Meredith and Paul just mentioned. So I don't own the problems, okay? These folks have really big problems to solve, and I think more and more what we're seeing is that the private sector is best suited to solve them. You're seeing op-eds all the time about this: to keep up with China, we need the private sector. To make sure that our installations are resilient, we need the private sector.
Well, that's where DIU comes into play. So it's my job to make sure I'm listening to the services. And I'm proud to say that we actually work with every service.
So the services are well represented here, but there are some that aren't. But we work across services. We're a joint organization. We want to understand all their problems. Everything you just heard from these folks are problems that we are solving right now with the private sector. So we are looking to you all in the private sector to help us solve their problems.
And DIU is the method by which you can do that. Logistically what that means is you can reach out to us. We try to make ourselves much more accessible than I think DOD has done in the past.
You can go right through our website. You can probably find our email addresses online. You can email me.
We have an entire team of people at DIU called our Commercial Engagement Team who are dedicated to doing nothing but, as the name suggests, engage with the commercial sector. In fact, my guy is here somewhere. We also have an entire team of people engaging with our defense partners to make sure that we are solving the right problems.
And again, those problems belong to folks like my fellow panelists here. So you can reach out to our website, you can email us. And typically, I would say, what you're gonna look for from DIU is, we put out solicitations. And we put out solicitations on a very as-needed basis.
So no annual cycles, nothing like that. If Paul comes to me and says, "I've got a problem and I need you to solve it," then we're gonna put out a solicitation probably within 30 days, and we're gonna be looking for the private sector to help us solve that problem. And we try to move fast. We try to make it easy to access.
You'll see our solicitations on LinkedIn and on our website. So, you know, sort of a different model than DOD has done in the past. And yeah, we really are utilizing the private sector to get after those big DOD problems. And places like Austin and, and other spots in the US are exactly where we want to be to do that.
- Awesome. Yeah, and I think that really helps me think about something Paul brought up, and this is an important distinction just to make quickly, which is, the Department of Defense defines energy in two different ways. One is called the Operational Energy, which is the fuel and other sources that power vehicles, aircraft ships. And then Installation Energy, which is the electricity and natural gas that heats and powers our installations-- more than 300,000 buildings across more than 550 installations around the world. But Paul, what you mentioned was, those installations are reliant on civilian infrastructure. And this is actually something Meredith, I'd like to turn to you first to talk about. You know,
the ways in which our installations are built into communities and the way in which that creates, you know, a sense of mutual dependence, and also, maybe, prompts the opportunity for the kinds of technologies that you're helping innovate and accelerate, how that might also help shape the civilian... the cities and and defense communities around our bases as well. - Absolutely.
And our defense communities are so important. And a lot of these problems that Andrew's talking about, know no fence lines, know no boundaries, in fact. And so there's a lot of opportunity to work together, to think together, to do some pretty innovative things together, and so we look at that. There's one example that I can offer that I think really illuminates both the challenge and application of technology and the solution. If I saw you earlier, forgive me, you're gonna hear a same story twice, but it's such a good one, and this is about California. And over Labor Day it got so hot.
It was in the high 100s, or not high 100s, but high 100s for recorded temperatures Fahrenheit in California. We had more than 50,000 megawatts pulls on the civilian grid there. The Navy took their ships off of the commercial grid and put themselves on ships' power.
The Marine Corps nearby went onto their microgrid and were able to sustain themselves creating relief from the grid. So when California was looking for people to reduce consumption, because we were doing this type of technology, and the one in California was in partnership with the California Energy Commission, so in partnership with the state and the community, created huge relief on the grid. And instead of there being a blackout or even rolling brownouts, the crisis there was managed.
And so that's a way that we all see the same problems and challenges as we see the impact of temperatures or storms or anything else that can be disruptive. It's also a place where we can think about how to innovate, how do we work together, how do we get that mutual benefit? Because at the end of the day, what is good for mission in terms of resilience is going to be good for community in terms of resilience, and it leads to a good quality of life. That reliable energy source, there is not disruption. Health, safety, welfare, all of the things that we are collectively after. But it starts with the same needs, the same challenges and the same utility of some of these technologies and the solutions. - Yeah.
And then, Paul, like, just building off of that and thinking about the ways in which you described our current structures for maintaining mission assurance and energy resilience within the installation, what are some of the things that you're thinking about from the sense of deploying new technologies to help maintain that inside, and if you can forecast how that might, you know, scale and spread and help create new opportunities and ways of operating for, you know, the broader economy? - Yeah. Well first, I like what Meredith said. The installation and the community are inseparable. So as we think about our resilience, we think about, you know, obviously our priority is for our mission critical systems. National security emergencies, we have to have power.
But the communities surrounding the installation, that's us too, you know. Our soldiers, many of our soldiers live in those communities. Their kids go to school in those communities, they socialize in those communities, they eat at dinner in those communities.
So it is one and the same. And the communities supply the civilian workforce. The bases don't operate without the civilian workforce. So as we look at the energy resilience, we have to build that out for us. But then we also have to work with the community and the local utility.
How do we transfer that resilience also to the community? And for all of those reasons, the civilian workforce, to take care of our families. 'Cause let's face it, if the grid's down and the town is cold and dark, the base might be lit up like a Christmas tree. How many soldiers are gonna be focused on their mission if their spouse and kids are at home in a dark house? So we have many reasons for wanting to do that, aside from just being good neighbors. It's just, it makes good sense. We are looking, you know...
Our goal is to get full resilience for all of our mission critical systems. I think our goal is by 2035. And how we're gonna do it? We're gonna do it in partnerships. We don't have enough money to do it on our own.
A lot of what we do to get the generation on our installations, we work with the local utility. We might lease some land, the utility will build and operate a 20 megawatt solar array. Day-to-day operations under the normal routine, that generation, that feeds the grid. So it's good for the community, it's good for the utility. It's increasing the carbon-free generation, so it's good for the environment. But as part of that contract, if the grid goes down, if there's a national security emergency, then we have first right to that power to feed our mission critical systems.
So we get resilience basically free of cost. The local utility gets really cheap land to use to build carbon-free generation, which they're all doing anyway. We're looking at other partnerships with private industry. We are looking for anything as a service, whether it's a power purchase agreement or just energy service companies to come on.
That's what we're doing at Los Alamitos. It's a National Guard base out in Southern California. That base is gonna be fully resilient by the end of the summer, 100% resilience for more than two weeks. But we're doing it with a private partner.
And the other half is really the technology, you know. The first question I always get was, well how can you have resilience with solar energy? What are you gonna do when the sun doesn't shine? We all know the battery technology is not where it needs to be. So we are basically walking down... We're building resilience today with the equipment of today for resilience tomorrow. Where are we gonna be in 10 years from now? We know the technology's not where it needs to be to give us 100% resilience using carbon-free generation. The Army is not gonna develop this technology.
The government is not gonna develop this technology. All of you are gonna develop this technology. We need private industry. We are looking for partners in private industry every day to develop this technology.
I went up to Detroit a while ago, to Detroit Arsenal, as we're looking at electrifying our vehicles. Our first stop wasn't actually at the Army installation there, it was at GM, and to see what industry is doing. And we were amazed at where the industry really is with battery technology. And we know there's other pockets out there, whether it's for solar generation or wind or geothermal or battery storage or other technologies that I don't even know about. We need to find those cooperative partnerships. We're looking for those cooperative partnerships.
We rely on DIU to help with a lot of that. And a lot of that is just us going out and looking. So that's how we're gonna do it. - Can I just piggyback on there, something that Paul said and building off of your opening remarks? You talked about real estate, and that we've got a lot of real estate.
We have a lot of land, which is a lot of opportunity to be innovative and to think about how to use those. At least in Navy, I talk about real estate being the magic authority. And it's one of the critical responsibilities that falls into both of our portfolios. And so as we think about that land, there's a lot of opportunities to do enhanced use leases. Actually in Texas, we just signed an intergovernmental service agreement to be able to figure out how we can facilitate a partnership and advancing some infrastructure that feeds into all of these benefits in the state. There are all of these unique authorities that we are granted because of being landholders.
And so as there are these technologies, we can enter into finance partnerships and other structured agreements that will help to pilot a lot of the technology that's out there where we have the space, the opportunity and the circumstances to test it, and then be able to work with you in terms of how to finance it and how to advance it. And then DIU can help us in terms of making sure that we go as quickly as possible. But just listening to you talk, I wanted to point out directly the power of the real estate authority combined with some of the other financing and piloting opportunities that we have. - And lemme just pile out on that as well. So in the infrastructure law that was passed by Congress last year, it gave the Department of energy a whole lot of money to do these kind of pilot projects.
All of the services are working an agreement with DOE to offer up one or or more of our installations to allow those pilot projects to happen. So working with the Department of Energy, entrepreneurs and other companies can develop, you know, can bring that technology in. DOE comes to us and say, "Hey, we've got this great project we want to try out and test." We provide the land to test it out, so that's another entree into the DOD landscape. - I got one more. - Absolutely. - If I can jump in for one more. I'm just thinking.
- Let's keep it away from Mike as long as we can. - I know. I'm sorry. - No, this is my favorite way to have a conversation. You all should be engaging with each other.
- I'll just add as one more layer, similar to the infrastructure bill. As you go into states, there are a lot of similarly structured state grant-making authorities and opportunities that will work well and sometimes work together in partnership. And so as you're looking for funding for your ideas and places to pilot it, there's actually a nice nesting of those opportunities in the ecosystem. And look for places where you see Navy, Marine Corps, Army first, and also all of our other services, of course, as well. - What are those other services? - Love a good service rivalry. My favorite thing about their offices is that, each office has energy installations and environment as a part of their title, but they're all in different orders.
So, I think that's an incredibly important point that both of you brought up. We're talking about $62 billion to strengthen the electric grid to DOE in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. $370 billion dedicated to clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.
So resources are flooding into this space like never before. And I would be remiss not to bang this drum that I've been working on for a while. There's an opportunity to create a really meaningful and exciting partnership between the work that's happening at the Department of Energy and strengthening, if not the Department of Defense directly, the communities that surround the Department of Defense, which are often in historically disinvested areas that meet the President's Justice40 goals. The thing that makes me most concerned about this entire space is not the money, because I think the money is in some ways there, it's how slow the federal government works and how slow we can actually get that money to people who are trying to do innovative and exciting things. Andrew, that's your job.
Like, you are standing up, or have stood up, an incredible portfolio. One of the newest DIU portfolios that is already, you know... I have heard numbers, but I'll let you say that. So what are, A, some of the barriers that you've run into in trying to execute your portfolio? And, B, what gives us some optimism that you can develop, and that the entire DOD energy innovation ecosystem can develop at the scale and speed necessary? - Yeah, I think what...What's been able to help us, if I'm being honest, DOD is not gonna fund all the research we need to fund.
And what excites me is that the private sector is excited again about clean renewable energy, however you want to call it. What we are set up very well to do at DIU, we've been doing in our portfolio, is leveraging what the private sector is doing and perhaps getting it over that hurdle into the DOD. So I think seeing what's coming out of the venture capital world, seeing what's coming out of the private sector, there's technology there to solve all these problems that these folks have been talking about. Installations--we're looking at things like flow batteries that maybe 10 years ago wouldn't have been feasible, but now with private sector investment, the technology's gotten there, and now we can look to use that. As Paul said, the battery technology maybe isn't there for large scale energy storage for installations. Maybe flow batteries are now.
But we can look at that. And so we've been able to leverage those private sector dollars, also good for the taxpayer. And I think we're just at a point where we are looking to grab what's been done at the private sector and get after the problems that these folks are mentioning. And I think that's why my portfolio in particular has grown so much in the last two years, because this is an exciting time in energy, both in the private sector and in DOD.
- Yeah, and maybe turning more to the, like, operational energy lens and thinking about what, like, our future force will look like. Paul, in particular, I know that you have thought a lot about operational energy. For those who don't know, Paul helped stand up the first operational energy office in the Pentagon about 12 years ago, I guess? Something like that. - Something like that.
- Yeah. So Paul, like, you know, you've seen real progress made from an operational energy perspective. But thinking about what you talked about at the beginning, where the future force will be more operationally efficient because that allows it for increased capability-- range, silence and things like that. Give me a picture of what that kind of expeditionary force will look like. What will the vehicles look like? The Army has an incredibly aggressive, and terrifying to me, goal of electrifying all of its tactical vehicles by 2050, which seems exciting but optimistic. And so, like, talk to me about some of the things that make you optimistic about being able to achieve that.
And then what will it look like for a brigade combat team in the field? - So I want to be a little bit careful when I say what it's gonna look like. - Yeah, sure. - And here's why, 'cause I took advantage of my time in Austin and yesterday I spent the day at Army Futures Command. So for those of you that don't know, Army Futures Command is based here in Austin and their job is just what it sounds like. It's look into the future and help develop the technologies working with private industry. And one of the questions I got was, you know, how do we know what to be looking for? How do we craft the design, because there's no guardrails right now.
It's just kind of out there. And we had a pretty good back and forth. It was like, well we don't wanna put the guard rails out there yet. We don't wanna say this is what it's gonna look like, 'cause honestly, we don't know what it's gonna look like.
I don't know how we're gonna electrify a 96 ton tank when today's batteries, you need 50 tons of batteries to be able to power that 96 ton tank. And as far as charging it on an austere battlefield, no clue. I have no idea how that's gonna happen.
I don't want to tell the team this is what it's gonna look like. I don't want to tell the team, this is what our vehicles are gonna look like or how they're gonna operate, because I want that imagination. I want that wide spectrum of thought to really look at it and try everything.
Eventually, yeah, we'll start putting guard rails on as we kind of nicker down the technology and figure out where it's really going. But that could be 10 years away. What it's gonna look like, I don't know. What the tanks are gonna look like, I don't know. What I do know, the vision is a battlefield where the soldiers and the vehicles are not tethered by fuel lines like they've been for the last 100 years, since World War I. Anyone who's read history, World War II, the Red Ball Express. That was a constant,
and I mean a constant stream of fuel trucks going from the Normandy beaches, across France and into Germany, following the forces as we advanced. We literally spent burning as much fuel and audio fades) What we need is a about, (audio fades) We don't need logistical support. Most people don't know, (audio drops out)) forces are small, the logistical and rear echelon forces, those are massive, and they dwarf the actual forces at the front. That's a huge waste of resources. We need to swap that. The majority of people have to be at the end of the spear.
They have to be the one that's doing the fight, and it's gonna be a force that is silent, that is highly mobile, and that is untethered. What that's gonna look like, I don't know. We're gonna depend on a lot of you guys here and the rest of the industry, and the rest of the country, to come up with those ideas to see what's gonna look like. - Can I? - Yeah, absolutely.
Can I just pile on there, 'cause I think Paul, you did a little pitch for DIU without even knowing it, so thank you for that. - I'll take my commission after. - Yeah, after. It's such an important point that Paul made about not putting you all, the private, sector in a box. And this is a huge part of how DIU operates.
All you gotta do is go through some of our, you know, social media and you'll start seeing something called "The Fast Follower Strategy," which came out of our previous director. That Fast Follower Strategy is to say that, we are following you, the private sector. And you'll see that even in the way that DIU solicits for solutions. So in our most recent battery solicitation for electric vehicles, we didn't say it has to fit a certain, you know, mold. We said "We need a battery." Right? And now what we have is quite a few different vendors on contract from large defense to small business that are looking at the best way to put batteries into Army vehicles, Marine corps vehicles.
We're doing that. But we're really, are looking to follow what the private sector is doing. And I think that's a really important point, and kind of a different way of thinking from DOD in the past where you have to fit exactly what we do. That also limits who's gonna be trying to solve our problems. We wanna open (audio drops out) It's a very important part of how we solicit the private sector and go after those solutions.
- Yeah. I always think about it from the standpoint of, like, what you're articulating is a set of requirements, not a set of specifications. And so, your role is to articulate those requirements, not to tell, you know, what exactly this thing needs to look like and what it needs to... that you need to say what it needs to do, not what it needs to look like. Paul's point about logistic tails and the way it works.
The way it impacts warfare reminds me of a, a potentially apocryphal Napoleon quote that, "An army runs on its stomach." And I think that way in particular, Meredith, when it comes to the Navy's mission to maintain freedom of action in the seas and project power. And so again, as we start thinking about large-scale, near-peer competitor conflict, conflict with a country like China that focuses its capabilities on sea area of denial, what are the potential, sort of, new ways of operating, and how will that shape Navy platforms in the future and what are the, sort of, energy implications that are associated with that? - In terms of future, and as we think about that big requirement, very similar to what Paul is saying, we're, we're looking to be efficient. We are looking to make sure that we are cutting that tail and staying focused on the mission. That's always going to be the first thing. But in terms of how we get there and what that looks like, that diversity of perspective that comes from putting requirements out and getting those inputs back in will help us to be able to develop what that looks like, certainly.
You spoke of China and how they're engaging in this space. It's important to think about what that means in terms of operations as well. So we see island nations that are being impacted in an existential way by climate change and those impacts. Those are places that we're going to be operating. That is a place, as we look across the geography here, that everybody is looking for how they engage and how they operate. And so, I don't think it's just platforms.
I think that there is a very holistic way of looking at it and looking at infrastructure, looking at all of the components and pieces that make up the way that we are able to support those operations and in all of their variety will make sense. But as we look specifically towards our ships, looking towards our platforms, it is certainly looking at our supply chains, thinking about how we are fueling, thinking about what it means to make sure that we are secured every step of the way. And that is something that we are always paying attention to. - Yeah.
The stat that always sticks with me about that is, the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility is more than half the earth's surface, which is incredible. And so there is that associated, sort of, tyranny of distance, as it's been described, around the kinds of, like, you know, just sheer mileage that you have to cover in that. That brings out, like, the operational logistics planning for particularly for the Navy and Marine Corps. - And since everyone's talked about Napoleon, I feel like I should too. - I think it's just me. - No, Paul got some Napoleon, didn't you? I thought you did, or? - I would never refer to the French like that.
- So as we think about that, I think there's a really interesting and telling logistics story there. As Napoleon came into Moscow, and he was, headed in there, the Russians made a decision to let the weather fight the Army instead of having to fight the Army. And as you look and fast forward to Ukraine last winter, the same thing. In an abundance of irony, the weather ended up fighting Russia there, and it all was tied to those logistics considerations, and in the more immediate situation it was energy. And so thinking about how all of these things come into play, going back to the beginning of our conversation, the way that we are engaging, the way that we are operating is so nuanced and tiered, and there are all of these equities that come into play that we need to consider in terms of, what do those engagements look like? What are those considerations? And as we look at things like supply chain, construction and all the elements that get us there, it becomes...You win by being efficient,
by being effective and figuring out where those advantages are. And that's really how we need to think about what our platforms look like, what our engagements look like, what we are doing to make sure that at every opportunity we're creating that advantage. - Absolutely. I think, yeah, maybe just with a little bit of our time remaining, I'd really like to focus on, like, what this audience presumably is here for in some ways.
We're here at South by Southwest. Real focus on innovation and technology development, and just togetherness here. But thinking about from an entrepreneur's perspective, thinking about a startup technology company. One who, you know...
I have lamented the difficulty of working with the federal government, thinking of... But folks who wanna work and find capital and investment from federal government, who want the validation that comes with doing a pilot with, you know, a national security asset, who want to contribute to a national security mission, what's a piece of advice that you would give an entrepreneur who was interested in working with you to bring about the future that you're describing? And that can be anybody. Yeah. - As I said, this is the part where I say you talked to Andrew. - I was gonna say, the first piece of advice I would give is call DIU. - Yeah.
- You may have a solution to a problem you don't even know that you've solved. So typically the way we work is, we get our problems from the services, we look for a solution, but it sometimes works out that we get a company, comes and talks to us and said, "I've got this," you know, "kind of game changing thing." And I pick up the phone and call one of these people and say, "Would that help you?" And sometimes that works out as well.
So it can absolutely work, work both ways. The other thing I would say, a piece of advice I have is, patience, when it comes to the DOD. We, DIU, are trying to shift that model and work, what I would consider by DOD standards, to be lightning fast, but by the private sector standards can still feel painfully slow, especially for a startup that is struggling for money. Right? So I would say patience.
DOD is not gonna be your only investor, right? But we are there. And DIU wants to help get your technology into the field to solve these problems. So, patience and contact DIU.
- And I'll add in. I knew you had all the good answers. I'll add in though that, while it seems like things can take a long time, we are a collection of pretty persistent people in our own right, and so if there is a problem that needs to be solved, we are going to be advocating. We are going to be figuring out the way to weave between the lines, because it's important to get to that solution. And uniquely, what we are asking you all for as you think and as you see these opportunities is, where it can be a bit distant sometimes, the Department of Defense in all of our work, this is a place that you have a direct stake in creating a stake in creating a solution and supporting your defense and national security, which is, it's so beneficial in both directions.
There is that connection. But we recognize that we don't have all of the answers, but we know what we're looking for. And so if we can meet in the middle there, there is a lot of mutual benefits here as well. - Yeah, I would just add it's, it's a two-way street. It's a little bit incumbent upon you. You're gonna have to do a little bit of education on this and try and figure out where some of the needs are, which, you know, you can do.
Our climate strategy is public. We've published it. Meredith's--the Navy's published their climate action plan. You can find these things so you know the direction that we're going. You know. consortiums are sometimes a good way to link in.
And the example I'll give is low-carbon concrete. We have been looking to advance low-carbon concrete for all of our building. We've got a lot of buildings on our bases. I mean a lot of buildings.
So we're trying to look to reduce our carbon emissions through our construction. We're working with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers has a research and development laboratory, and so I got on the phone with the director down there said, "Hey, how can we do this?" You know, "We've got some money that we can get from Congress, "a few million dollars to help advance this technology."
They said, "Hey, we're part of this "low-carbon concrete consortium that's national "and has all these small companies." Because we had heard of a couple specific companies through various channels and I mentioned these companies to them. And the guy said, "Oh yeah. "I know exactly those companies "and this is where they are in their technology levels "and their production capabilities," and whatnot.
So, you know, it was like, "Well, if we gave you a few million dollars, "how would you work it?" And they would say they would pick a couple of these companies to help advance their technology and production level and give them a market. So those are the kind of things. It's gonna take a little bit of hunting and educating on your part as well, but those kind of things are out there. - Could I just say one more thing? And I think...I said patience, but I would also just remind folks that this is a really important mission, right? And, and Ms. Berger spoke earlier.
I hope you all saw it or can see it, because she made some really interesting points about, this isn't energy just for the sake of energy. Every less fuel convoy could be a life saved. Right? So as you're, sort of, working through the pains, which can be painful sometimes, of breaking into DOD, also keep in mind that the mission is really important. This could mean saving the lives of, you know, sailors, Marines, soldiers, et cetera.
And we want your technology, it's important to us, and it's important to the war fighter. - And just because Paul mentioned consortia, I'm also the Executive Director of the Resilient Infrastructure and Secure Energy Consortium, which is a coalition of more than 500 startups, national laboratories, universities, nonprofit research organizations and others that are dedicated to clean energy and climate action for DOD and the rest of the federal government. If any of those apply to you, or you're just interested in learning more about this community, I would love to talk to you about that. We are gonna turn to audience questions now, if that's true, Josh? - It is true. - Okay. - There are.
This is the flight interaction program. Before we get there though, I just wanted to thank all of you for another riveting discussion. There were a number of things. Yeah, sure.
Give it a clap. Totally clap. (audience applauding) There were a few things that I took away. One is, I thought, just the phrase, you know, "I want your imagination." Like, what a tagline for all of our conversations here at South By.
I thought that was so profound. I also loved your line, you go, like, "You may have a solution to a problem you didn't know you solved." And I also think that, you know, that is one of the most important aspects of this dual use technology conversation we're having. And you brought this up too, Meredith, about the intersection.
I actually know of a company that did solve one of the hardest problems the DOD is facing in a completely different field, and they didn't even know they solved it. And it was DIU that watched them in and it's now, you know, a transformational technology. So that was fascinating.
It also lends a little sort of, suspense and intrigue to this whole process. And then another thing I just wanted to highlight, which I thought was also so interesting, and I just wanted to tease it out, 'cause it kind of went by fast. It was really...The implications are really huge, which is the difference between Operational Energy and the Installation Energy, and how all of our military bases draw their energy from the community. But everyone on that base has a family that is living in that community.
And we talk about family readiness, but family readiness becomes actual readiness in the situation where, you know, how, you know, if our, if our energy grid is under cyber attack from an adversary, and all of our service members have family members that are at risk, you know, what does that do for our ability to fight and prepare and deter? And I just thought that was really interesting, and it shows this notion of, like, a shared fate. Like, we really are in this together. And I just want to close with, like, all of you talked about mission, and I think so many of us here at South by Southwest, who have all different walks of life, will be thinking about climate and sustainability from a standpoint of protecting and stewarding our environment. But you each really drove home in your own way how this is about mission for what our service members are tasked to do.
And I love that, you know, it allows us to focus on the mission resilience, imagining how our future forces, silent and untethered. I thought it was really interesting how we really come together in this very unlikely comparison of, you know, the military and the tree huggers, right? All really need the same thing when it comes to climate tech. You know, saving the planet and protecting our country. It really is the same technology. So, amazing panel. It is our chance to hear from all of you.
We have microphones circulating. Your questions, your comments, let's hear it. Right here in front, sir. - [Attendee] Thank you very much for a very interesting talk.
One of the things that I was wondering about is, you know, the Navy has the largest and safest fleet of nuclear reactors on earth. And those ships could literally, right now, make us far more resilient by sending power back to the grid, but there's a lot of infrastructure that has to be built to be able to do that. So that's one thing that I thought, you know, would be interesting to try to understand what the Navy might be doing to do that. - Meredith, why can't our aircraft carriers just power all the time? - Well, exactly right. Nuclear energy is clean.
There's a lot to understand about how to do that. Back to the point on communities. It is a different thing to put nuclear into communities without fully understanding how we do that. We're at the front end of understanding what that means. But what the Navy understands so well is the stewardship that goes along with nuclear energy.
And so as we're at the front end, there's a lot that we need to learn. There's a lot the Navy can offer. And our one colleague, service colleague who isn't here, is Air Force, who is actually starting to do some experimentation with small nuclear reactors. And so, we will learn because that is exactly how we work. As we pilot, we take the collective learning and move forward, and so they'll do some experimentation.
We really understand the stewardship part of it and we'll work together on how this goes forward. - [Attendee] So I've been in the Air Force for a couple decades, and old enough to have seen a lot of cycles of funding availability for energy projects. And sometimes there's a ton, and sometimes there's very, very little. And from an outsider, it seems to be correlated with the current opinions in the executive branch.
So right now we're flush with money, and there's a ton of resources to do these sorts of things. So I guess my question is, what in your opinion can be done to make that funding steadier and less subject to personalities in the executive branch so that these types of projects don't start and stop every 48 years? - I can start with that, - Steve, you wanna take that one? - Yeah. We've already talked about all of this. It's all about the climate and the environment and the planet, but it's about the mission. So everything that we're doing in our climate strategy is increasing the resilience of our installation, which we need to be able to project power in a contested homeland.
We need that to be able to fight the wars. It's about increasing the operational capability of the fighting force, and it's about protecting our soldiers. I dare any president, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, I don't care, you name the party. There is no commander-in-chief that should be able to turn that around. So as we talk about this, we might be couching it in climate, but we're also couching in mission as we've done here today.
This is about increasing the capabilities of our fighting force. And no responsible commander-in-chief can turn that around. - Can I just add? Like, as a Obama administration appointee who's not in government currently, the folks here who are working on that and articulating it, are doing it better than, I think, it was done in the Obama administration, and focusing it on the culture within that-- the war fighting and mission-driven culture of DOD and the services in... And also in meshing it in the programs, policies and directives in a way that's much more, I think, deeper and sustainable throughout, like, whatever political winds are blowing.
And I think they should be commended for that. - [Attendee] You know, you talked a lot about different technologies and how to get them to the DOD and how critical they are for our future. What would you say about data and data analysis, and also secure data analysis, and that is regarding our energy needs? What are your thoughts on that and plans for adopting those technologies which are racing ahead in the commercial world? - I could just start quickly by saying we DIU are looking at that now. In fact, we have a couple of prototype projects that are specifically looking at how do we gather that data, and how do we use that data to then, at some point, make it actionable. Actionable in the terms that you were just talking about: making the buildings more efficient, knowing the best time to turn the generators on and off, et cetera. So, we're looking at that in terms of prototyping.
I would leave it to the folks here to talk about how that might get spread across the services. But technology-wise it's definitely something we're trying to address now. - And I'll just say, as, as a top level directive from our leadership at... The Deputy Secretary of Defense has been very clear that data is to drive our decisions on everything from energy to climate to, to variety of things we do across the department. But we are very much working as a whole, a department approach to ensure that we are integrating data, allowing that to inform us to drive decisions.
And so, it's very much a part of our process. - [Attendee] One of the things that, you know, I've encountered, and I think a lot of people have seen this. How do you actually get a small pilot to scale, right? How do you actually get... Okay, DIU's gotten successful, you know, technology off the ground. What do you have, like, in terms of a methodology or that type of thing? We kind of have working use cases, you know, benefits and all of those things.
But then as we kind of go down the pike, I feel like it gets a little hard to explain this and I'd love to kind of get an idea of where you are. - You cannot have an innovation panel without talking about going from pilot to scale. - You need a sponsor so that we can build the requirement for it so we can get it into the system. The acquisition folks know how to do it. So basically when we see something we like, I turn to my counterpart in the acquisition side and say, "Okay, how do we make this work now," and go to them.
So I know that Mr. Young Bang is here. In fact, I just saw him. He just got here. So lasso him and he can tell you. - Amazing. All right. Thank you so much. Another fantastic panel. (audience applauding) (cheerful music) (logo swooshing)