Green The Bloody Butterfly
by Roger Feldman --
Andrews Kurth, LLP
Summertime and the living is easy. Air conditioners pumping and the icemaker’s working fine. And yet, now too is the summer of our discontent, made torrid by fears of war and terrorism. It sometimes seems to sensible hardheaded people (in which group most of us number ourselves) that to confront those issues holding the green palms of renewable energy is almost a little effete, distracted by environmentalism from the blood and iron realities of the day.
I felt somewhat that way when I began reading former CIA Director Woolsey’s invocation of the “Butterfly Effect” as something in any way linking energy policy and renewable energy. The butterfly effect -- the notion that when a butterfly flutters its wings on one side of the world, our complex ecosphere can, given its interconnected complexity, create unpredictable results such as cyclones on the other side of the world. Or, to take a more tangible example related to our amazingly complex and yet fragile energy system, the fall of a tree branch on a transmission line in Ohio can take 50 million people off the electric grid for a couple of days throughout the North American Northeast. Here is the connection, as Wolsey has put it most graphically:
[T]errorists are a lot smarter than tree branches. They could go after the vulnerable parts of the electricity grid intentionally, just as they went after the cockpit doors on 9/11. They can think their way toward finding the most serious vulnerabilities . . .
In the past, that has led would-be hard headed and sensible proponents of distributed energy solutions to focus on the possibilities implicit not only in multiple locations of back-up energy sources (conventional as well as renewable) which were not dependent on the grid. While the military in its effort to “harden” bases has seen some merit in this concept, there has not been a wildfire adoption of this solution, even when linked by sophisticated information systems. Certainly utilities have not proved staunch advocates of reducing reliance on large scale central generation with its lower production cost, nor of major transmission expansion not paid for by the customers benefiting from same.
Leaving aside economic reasons for this, there seem to be two major precepts embedded in the national psyche which have dismissed the possibility of conscious ninja-like emulation of the butterfly effect by the “bad guys.” One is simply that it “can’t happen here”; obviously part of the shock of 9/11 was that, evidently, it could. The second is that whatever threat America faces can be dealt with by highly sophisticated technological means, if we put our minds and hearts to it, whether domestic or international . . .
Which is where it becomes extremely pertinent to consider the congressional testimony of Scott Sklar, a noted energy consultant to, among others, the National Defense University. Sklar points out that the Achilles heel of many of our high tech security devices is the vulnerability of their power supply. He focuses on three areas:
Offensive and Defensive Preparations and Actions
One feels better just hearing about these devices and systems: mind over crazed efforts to crush matter. But in industrialized countries, most of these are still interconnected with the electric grid (whose wires can be cut) and backed up by the use of diesel generators (sometimes unreliable, utilizing vulnerable fuel tanks, easily subject to disabling and fuel combustion, susceptible to flooding) or by battery banks (which run down).
Which is why experts like Sklar have urged the use of remote renewable energy sources, either on their own or to provide greater reliability and robustness to systems. This is not squishy, unpragmatic thought: it is a direction of research and implementation by the Defense Department in its increasing role of terrorist-control activities overseers. At the macro level, for example, last August the Marine Corps General in al-Anbar province requested the Pentagon send more solar and wind renewable energy systems to bases and outposts, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels, reducing fuel convoy requirements, and thereby saving lives. A reverse-mini-butterfly effect, if you will.
More prosaically, first in theaters of war, but certainly adaptable to a variety of situations, renewable energy can enhance the likelihood that our “walls” will stand firm. The higher and harder to reach any sensing and detection equipment is placed, the harder it is to disable. PV, mini-wind and micro-fuel cells all have great capacity to be located with these devices and hardened themselves appropriately. There is great value in blending renewable and conventional sources, so that valuable redundancy in sensing, communicating, and powering can be obtained.
In short, it is not Brownie that will save us from dangerous
security-disabling brown-outs; it is the green net of renewables. Those
who fight wars know it more than those prattling about homeland
security. And it is up to proponents of renewables to bring home the
story of the bloody butterfly.