06/23/2011 01:51 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2011

Dept. of Defense Planning Large-Scale Integration of Electric Vehicles

The Department of Defense (DOD) is at the genesis of large-scale integration of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) into its non-tactical ground fleet as part of federal government efforts toward expanding usage of alternative fuel vehicles.

The DOD has identified certain segments of the non-tactical fleet that are "ripe for achieving cost parity," according to Camron Gorguinpour of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Logistics.

There is no budget line for this project. Rather, the DOD is "investigating opportunities" to work within its existing budget to achieve this large-scale integration. The timeline, Gorguinpour says, will be determined by the business model that is being developed to achieve cost parity, but the DOD wants to develop pathways to large-scale integration within months, not years.

On June 16 the DOD released a request for information (RFI) to engage stakeholders (e.g., manufacturers, suppliers, energy companies, smart grid experts) in the development of a plan that would achieve "total cost of ownership parity" -- in other words, a budget-neutral program.

The DOD non-tactical ground fleet currently is made up of more than 200,000 vehicles, comprised of medium trucks (which make up 22% of the fleet), light 4x2 trucks (15%), passenger vans (11%), compact sedans (9%), midsize sedans (9%), and heavy-duty trucks (9%). Medium duty trucks, which are currently the largest fuel consumer in the DOD non-tactical fleet, are a top target for this integration.

Cost parity may be achieved through a number of ways like volume procurement or vehicle-to-grid capabilities, depending on the function of the vehicle, where it is located, its daily duty/usage cycle, and local smart-grid capabilities.

In addition to economies of scale price advantages, large- and medium-sized trucks that don't need to travel long distances can have downsized batteries. Second-life battery usage can also make PEVs more affordable. When batteries are removed from PEVs, they still have 75 percent charge capacity and can be used for other applications.

In areas where capabilities exist or could be developed, vehicles could serve as grid energy storage devices to help manage energy on military bases (and the broader electrical grid), providing energy back into the grid during peak times (smoothing out energy costs and usage). In regions where grid energy storage is valuable, just plugging the vehicles into the grid sporadically during the day could offset the cost of the vehicles. In at least one region where nighttime power is particularly valuable, medium duty trucks plugged in during normal overnight idle time could potentially generate revenue.

The technology already exists for PEVs to provide remote and/or emergency backup power on military bases. PG&E has demo trucks that can provide essential power services to a small home or building during an outage. PEVs can be equipped with electric outlets, enabling military staff to operate sophisticated power tools in remote locations. Eventually, PEVs could even provide temporary or emergency power in deployment areas.

The DOD PEV program is being pursued as part of an overall DOD agenda to pursue energy independence.

"The more we can cut down on our dependence on foreign oil, the safer we are here in the U.S.," said Air Force Public Affairs Officer, Major Richelle Dowdell. "We're looking ahead now for a secure future later."

On May 24, President Barack Obama issued a formal Memorandum to all federal agencies that all new light duty trucks leased or purchased by the government must be alternatively fueled by the end of 2015.

Friday, the DOD had a day-long working session with about 60 industry and academic experts, including government officials, university researchers, utility companies, and others who discussed the requirements for developing more sophisticated capacity to communicate between the grid and vehicles. Next week, the Air Force is hosting an alternative energy event in Southern Arizona.

On August 1, the DOD will host an all-day follow-up workshop with one-on-one time with RFI respondents and other experts and stakeholders in grid technology and PEVs.