The Military’s Crusade to Save Lives by Going Green

Reliance on foreign oil the impetus

Ken Silverstein | May 09, 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.

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.

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