The largest dirty energy consumer in the world is going on a clean-energy diet in a bid to improve its interests in global combat zones. The Pentagon is working feverishly to convert its sites and operations to renewable power by a staggered set of deadlines ending about a decade from now.
The moves are in response to a landmark 2012 government mandate requiring the military to retain one-quarter of its energy from sustainable resources like solar and wind power by the year 2025.
Sustainability cast in terms of national security goals is making headway as military leaders allocate the billions in funds provided by Congress to support the green transition. For an organization with an annual utility bill exceeding $20 billion, every penny will be needed to make the necessary switches.
‘Great Green Fleet’
Officials expect to install at least 3 GW of renewable generation capacity on Army, Air Force, and Navy bases around the world in the coming years. Different branches are preparing in different ways.
The Navy is gearing up for a 2020 renewable power deadline by developing what’s known as the Great Green Fleet. It’s an aircraft carrier group of ships entirely powered by alternative energy, mainly biofuels.
The Air Force, for its part, is implementing a Net Zero Plan. As its name suggests, the Plan will lead the agency to “consume no more energy than is generated” through a combination of R&D and new renewable energy installations. The Air Force hopes to produce 1 GW of clean energy for its own purposes by 2016.
Meanwhile, the Army is working on a hybrid Humvee that’s twice as efficient as the famous gas-guzzler. And engineers are knocking their heads together to answer a burning question: How can renewables help maintain the safe flow of energy to soldiers under fire?
Mission Critical Technology
As one of the world’s largest armies expands its definition of national security to include environmental considerations, the notion that going green can help in some unexpected ways is gaining momentum. Sustainability is increasingly seen as boosting real-world security and battlefield readiness.
In the field, soldiers need a reliable supply of energy to maintain critical communications and stay alive. Because energy security is typically an immediate matter of life or death, military leaders know firsthand the importance of making even small changes that favor efficiency and energy independence.
One of the greatest vulnerabilities for the military in Afghanistan is the easy target that fuel convoys make. Filled with flammable materials that must pass through enemy-compromised areas, fuel convoys are frequently sniped, torched, and bombed, along with the personnel moving them.
A particularly devastating attack in August, which saw the incineration of 35 NATO fuel tankers and six driver fatalities, underscored the inherent weakness of having to transport fossil fuels in a war zone. Over 3,000 American servicemembers were killed in these kinds of attacks between 2003 and 2007.
But with renewable resources, “there is no supply chain vulnerability, there are no commodity costs and there’s a lower chance of disruption,” explains Richard Kidd, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary of energy security.
“A fuel tanker can be shot at and blown up. The sun’s rays will still be there.”
The tactical use of solar power cuts the amount of fuel needed to power outposts and thereby reduce fatalities along transport lines. Kidd says operational readiness has “gone up dramatically wherever solar has been deployed.”
These and related developments haven’t been lost on the top military brass—many of who now believe mission success hinges on access to energy efficiency and self-sufficiency.