Why Lockheed Martin Wants to Be In The Clean Energy Biz

Can making stealth bombers and radar systems translate into a successful clean energy and energy efficiency technology business? Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, like competitor Boeing, seems to think so. In a briefing on Wednesday Lockheed Martin executives described the defense firm’s overarching energy strategy, which includes project management for solar thermal technology, wind, synthetic fuels, fuel cells (mobile soldier power), ocean energy technology, satellite and carbon monitoring systems and smart grid systems. As Jim Kohlhaas, VP of Energy Initiatives with Lockheed’s Corporate Engineering & Technology group, put it, the company is looking at “any and all alternative energy sources.”

Lockheed Martin is looking to take its skills in managing, integrating and financing large engineering projects and apply them to the emerging clean energy and energy efficiency businesses. As clean energy projects move from demo size to large commercial scale (1 GW or more), a company like Lockheed Martin will start to attract interest from utilities that want to work with a large player that can streamline the process. For example Christopher D. Myers, VP of Solar Energy Programs for Lockheed Martin, said there hasn’t been a lot of upfront systems engineering or modeling systems for an industry like solar thermal. We can deliver a project on time, and on budget, said Myers, in an industry that has been dominated by a lot of small and VC backed companies.

One area that’s particularly attractive to Lockheed Martin is the smart grid. Like Boeing is doing, Lockheed can use its background in defense and security systems to appeal to utilities’ desire for robust security technology. Kenneth D. Van Meter, a principal within Lockheed Martin’s Enterprise Integration Group, said that Lockheed can offer the four things that utilities want: scalability, interoperability, security and situational awareness.

Lockheed is already working with a dozen utilities on security and integration, said Meter. With American Electric Power, for example, he said Lockheed is working on the world’s first cyber security grid operations center. That grid security center will accumulate data from real time sources and help mitigate possible threats. The center “will change in a material way security of the electric grid,” said Meter.

Lockheed Martin has been working in bits and pieces in the energy sector for awhile. It has solar thermal and solar PV demo plants in Moorestown, New Jersey, and has had its ocean thermal energy conversion project in Hawaii for years. Lockheed Martin is now taking a more aggressive approach and expanding its portfolio to offer customers a range of technologies. For example, ocean thermal conversion technology works well where wave power buoys don’t, so we can offer something like that as a package, said Kohlhaas.

Beyond these specific energy verticals, Lockheed Martin sees energy as a fundamental global opportunity. Kohlhaas said that energy could be the next transformative initiative that could fundamentally change the global economy and the workforce. But even in Lockheed Martin’s more traditional defense business, energy is rising as an important issue. Soldiers burdened with less fuel weight are more secure, and having troops independent from fuel lines (which can commonly be targets) can increase troop security, too. Lockheed has been working with stealthy ultracacitor firm EEStor to embed the startup’s Electric Energy Storage Units (EESUs) into Lockheed’s military applications.

And there’s also the fact that the defense industry has faced budget cuts and constraints from the economy. Lockheed’s future growth has to come from somewhere, and the company sees clean energy and energy efficiency as a reasonable crossover.

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin.