The U.S. Military and Green Energy
By Betty Jo Pritchett
As we approach Memorial Day, my thoughts automatically turn to those in uniform. But that’s not unusual. Being a spouse of a soldier, my thoughts are on those in uniform most days, and I wanted to write a blog post to honor their contributions to the conservation movement. When I think about the U.S. military the first image to come to mind isn’t of an environmentally friendly force. As an organization, they use a ton of resources while supporting missions across the globe. The military has different goals, but from time to time there are places where those goals intersect with the ‘green movement’. One of the causes that both the military and environmentalists can both champion is renewable energy.
The Department of Defense spends about $20 billion a year on energy and in 2009, the military used 375,000 barrels of oil per day. Their reasons for investing in renewable energy have more to do with saving money and less to do with environmentalism. The military also sees renewable energy as a way to energy security and more flexibility and independence for the force. Current energy supply lines, especially overseas, are sometimes unreliable and risky. Military members can stay safer, and be more effective with alternative energy sources. It’s about trimming their budget and, more importantly, preventing human casualties.
In that spirit, the Department of Defense and the individual branches of the military have set some lofty goals for the near future. The military as a whole has committed to reducing energy consumption, increasing energy efficiency and increasing the use of alternative and renewable energy sources. In 2009, the Army set specific goals to have thirty installations meet ‘net zero’ energy goals by 2030 and to transform its non-tactical domestic fleet with the use of hybrid and low-speed electric vehicles. The Navy plans to develop and sail a ‘Great Green Fleet’ (a strike group powered by biofuels and nuclear) by 2016, to reduce its non-tactical petroleum use in its commercial fleet by half by 2015 and to convert half of all Navy and Marine Corps installations to net zero by 2020. The Air Force is hoping to acquire half of its domestic aviation fuel from alternative fuel blends by 2016. And these are only a handful of the specific goals that the military has set for itself.
With installations worldwide and a host of energy needs, the projects themselves run the gamut. There are portable solar panels that allow Marines to power communications equipment in the field, hybrid generators and solar powered refrigerators that purify and cool water in the desert, prototypes of energy efficient solar electric drones, and micro-grids for military installations. The military has invested in just about every renewable energy technology out there including wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biofuels, biomass and hydro. U.S. installations are seeing a rise in alternative energy sources like geothermal at Fort Knox, KY; solar at the White Sands Missile Range, NM; biomass at the Red River Army Depot, TX; landfill gas at Hill Air Force Base, HI; wind at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, WY; and tidal at Puget Sound, WA.
Department of Defense and the U.S. Military are developing renewable energy and energy efficient technologies for a host of harsh climates from Alaska to Afghanistan and for both urban and very rural landscapes. Getting these technologies produced on a scale that will benefit the military is a challenge. The good news is that the military’s investment in clean energy technology spurs the market and hopefully we will see more of these technologies being used in the civilian world soon.
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