The Military’s Crusade to Save Lives by Going Green

Ken Silverstein | Apr 18, 2012

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Energy independence and national security are often used in the same phrase. But now when the words are spoken, it will apply to the American military. The U.S. armed forces are continuing their crusade to go green, not because it may be vogue but because it will save lives.

The effort involves both domestic and overseas military bases, as well as the fields of operation. The military, in fact, is the world’s most voracious consumer of energy. But specifically, it is using fossil fuels on the battlefield that can run low and put lives at risk. By carrying sustainable sources of power with them, soldiers are reducing their risks -- while also creating fewer emissions.

“Renewable energy is critical to making our bases more energy secure,” says President Obama, in a statement. “Together with emerging micro-grid and storage technologies, reliable, local sources of renewable power will increase the energy security of our nation’s military installations. By doing so, the U.S. Department of Defense is better able to carry out its mission to defend the nation.”

The military is moving on several fronts. The Defense Department will increase its commitment to renewable energy to 3 gigawatts. That includes solar, wind, biomass and geothermal, all of which will be placed in army, navy and air force installations by 2025. That would equate to 25 percent of their total energy needs. About 450 green energy projects are now operating around the globe.

The U.S. Army in particular recently said it would will partner with the private sector to invest as much as $7 billion over the next 10 years in green energy sources. It will buy such power through power purchase agreements in which suppliers promise to deliver them at an agreed upon price. Besides helping that military branch achieve its renewable energy goals, the strategy could also permit it to become an “island” whereby the bases would continue to operate if the grid that serves all power users should fail.

Other moves: The army will develop the technologies to build next-generation combat vehicles: fuel cells, hybrids, all-electrics and alternative fuels. It is also helping to finance energy storage technologies -- the kind that would harness wind and solar energies and release them when they are most in need. That would help both battlefield fuel convoys and military aircraft generators.

Limited Scope

The Department of Defense is known for its innovation and its energy consumption, and along with its resources and the ability to give orders, it could effect greater societal change. But some say that its mission does not go far enough and contribute to the overall energy infrastructure.

“There is reason to hope that important advances might come from a renewed effort in this area,” says a report issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But there also appear at present to be significant limitations upon scope and scale of the Defense Department’s likely influence.”

But the military is trying to develop and fund those tools that would have broader uses. Consider that the U.S. military has huge real estate holdings around the globe. It is employing energy efficiency technologies to cut consumption in those facilities by as much as 30 percent. By doing so, it is helping to create economies of scale so that the technologies can be employed in all types of businesses.

And on the battlefield, the armed forces have learned that depending on fossil fuels to power camps is not just risky but also expensive. That’s why the government is equipping soldiers with devices that can be powered with solar chargers and even with compact fuel cells that can keep everything running -- from communications to computers to auxiliary electrical systems.

To that end, the army has a “net-zero strategy,” which means any installation will generate as much energy as it uses. It’s about becoming increasingly energy efficient and potentially energy independent. 

“We understand there’s a need to enhance to our energy security because it’s operationally necessary, financially prudent and critical to our mission,” says Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the army for Energy and the Environment, at a news event. “We know that power grids are increasingly vulnerable and expose army operations to risk.”

The military is modernizing its armed fleet by going green. It’s a move that will be healthy for the troops and eventually for all American enterprises.



EnergyBiz Insider is the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has also been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

energybizinsider@energycentral.com


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Comments

Military lead the way on turbine efficiency

 

The armed forces pose a specially demanding environment for the gas turbines that power a wide range of fixed win and rotary wing aircraft as well as ships. The range of conditions these turbines experience in their operational life is unparalleled in other spheres of industry. In addition to the normal requirements of efficiency relating to operational cost (fuel), pollution and reduced maintenance costs, any failure by reduced effectiveness in a military environment could result in severe consequences to operational success and national security. It is for this reason that all branches of the British Armed Forces use Zok products to clean their gas turbine fleets.  http://www.zok.com/

 

Appropriate Technology is Vital

Using solar energy to power a tank might not be feasible now but it seems that the other posters for this article somehow missed the solar-powered communication devices, remote cameras, emergency signals and other devices that are visible along today's highways.  Turning off the innovation spiget because fossil fuels happen to be plentiful at the moment is both short-sighted and, frankly, bizarre.

The same people who lambast innovation are doing so by sitting at their modern computers while checking their smart phones and planning to attend a teleconference.  Granted, it is convenient to go outside and fire up the ol' gas guzzler rather than walk the 2 miles for a pack of cigarettes but is it a good long term strategy? 

Fossil fuels have 'soaked up' billions of dollars in subsidies and are enjoying the benefits (profits) of our presence in Iraq without having to foot the bill for the war.  It's been a great ride for the fossil fuel industries so far and lucrative for those who work for them but it will end.  Shouldn't we be thinking about that?

"Turning off the innovation spiget"

Uhhh ... NO.  [and it's 'spigot'...]

A technology that WORKS and is cost-competitive with alternatives WILL be proven and then implemented by reasonable commanders, tech managers and engineers.

Marginally functional, marginally competitive technologies that are crammed into implementation by 'semi-religious' advocates may waste funding and may endanger lives in difficult military situations. WAITING for the sun to rise enough to power your solar radio could be annoying and hazardous for the crew of an isolated firebase being overrun by a resurgent Taliban or other religious sect [who are pretty knowledgeable about when darkness occurs].

peterNaCl

Mature but Deficient Technologies

Apart from the giddy eco-nonsense, the ongoing notion that these "technologies" are immature is beyond annoying. These "technologies" are actually quite mature as evidenced by the rollout of massive projects and the presence large-scale equipment manufacturing capability across the globe. What is missing from the discussion is the acknowlegement that these mature "techologies" have been, are and will likely remain economically deficient.  Even with huge direct cash subsidies, evidence of Big Green failure appears almost daily.

The fact that the military is now engaged in this folly is mere testament to the ability of one end of government to force another end of government to waste precious taxpayer dollars.

Military Green Energy Crusade

Complete lunacy and a monumental waste of tax payer money, particularly since the presumed basis for the entire dopey effort (global warming) is highly suspect.

The mission of the military is to protect the country, not carry out the an ill-conceived "green energy" agenda hatched by a bunch of left-wing zealots. With luck, the next administration will clean house and spend our hard earned money on efforts aimed at insuring the military is well armed and the troops are fairly paid.

Great Article Ken

Ken, you hit the nail right on the head in this great post.  The military has tremendous market pull and thier ability to do so in large volumes to meet economies of scale and scope can be a great help in meeting price points that benefit us all while enhancing our security in multiple ways.

Were it not for their ability to do this in the past, we might have waited years to enjoy jet -powered flight and their distant cousin, the combined cycle gas turbine.  It was their investments not just in in R&D but also massive procurement, a form of subsidy,  that allowed the gas turbine technology to meet lower cost and higher performance figures.  It has been that massive procurement portion that was missing on the renewable front that has taken it so long to mature to where it is now.  With this new push the sky is limit as we used to say. Only a lack of political inclination and/or will can derail this effort and that will be to our national security detriment.

Best,

Joel Gordes

I am not in agreement with your assessment

First of all, large frame gas turbines which are most adaptable to combined cycle were developed somewhat independently of jet engines.  In fact the first commercial industrial engines led jet engine development.  I will agree that military investment in jet engine materials research benefitted gas turbine manufacturers with new materials and new ideas but it was not military investment that led to commercialization of jet flight.

Similarly, government investment in the space program led to literally hundreds of ideas that were picked up by entrepeneurs or existing businesses and converted into useful and viable products.

I agree that use of solar PV, wind, and energy storage on remote locations is a really good idea.  Use of these on fixed military installations where there is fuel and infrastructure available is a waste of taxpayer money because the technologies are not mature despite years of work.  Too much is being put into commercializing these technologies which still need development is killing innovation in the fields.  Invest in the R&D to develop the technologies, not commercializing uneconomical technologies.

Mark Wooldridge

I am not in agreement with your assessment

First of all, large frame gas turbines which are most adaptable to combined cycle were developed somewhat independently of jet engines.  In fact the first commercial industrial engines led jet engine development.  I will agree that military investment in jet engine materials research benefitted gas turbine manufacturers with new materials and new ideas but it was not military investment that led to commercialization of jet flight.

Similarly, government investment in the space program led to literally hundreds of ideas that were picked up by entrepeneurs or existing businesses and converted into useful and viable products.

I agree that use of solar PV, wind, and energy storage on remote locations is a really good idea.  Use of these on fixed military installations where there is fuel and infrastructure available is a waste of taxpayer money because the technologies are not mature despite years of work.  Too much is being put into commercializing these technologies which still need development is killing innovation in the fields.  Invest in the R&D to develop the technologies, not commercializing uneconomical technologies.

Mark Wooldridge

Great Article Ken

Ken, you hit the nail right on the head in this great post.  The military has tremendous market pull and thier ability to do so in large volumes to meet economies of scale and scope can be a great help in meeting price points that benefit us all while enhancing our security in multiple ways.

Were it not for their ability to do this in the past, we might have waited years to enjoy jet -powered flight and their distant cousin, the combined cycle gas turbine.  It was their investments not just in in R&D but also massive procurement, a form of subsidy,  that allowed the gas turbine technology to meet lower cost and higher performance figures.  It has been that massive procurement portion that was missing on the renewable front that has taken it so long to mature to where it is now.  With this new push the sky is limit as we used to say. Only a lack of political inclination and/or will can derail this effort and that will be to our national security detriment.

Best,

Joel Gordes