An extensive analysis published earlier this month by Reuters news service offers in full detail the reasons why clean energy alternatives continue to be pursued by what can best be described as the largest special interest in this country – the Department of Defense.
The military’s ongoing, aggressive support for cleaner alternatives in powering vehicles, planes, ships, installations and operations offers welcome and reliable reassurances to renewable energy stakeholders and advocates in this time of energy policy uncertainty at the national level.
In compiling its story, Reuters was told by senior military officials that the nation’s armed forces remain committed to an effort to transition high fuel-demand operations to renewable power, citing logistical reasons that have remained unchanged since the move to shift power sources began more than a decade ago.
The U.S. armed forces are the nation’s single largest consumer of energy. Twenty percent of the military’s energy consumption occurs at its installations and the Defense Department pays around $4 billion annually to provide power to its 300,000 plus facilities in the United States and around the world.
The U.S. military uses more oil than any other organization in the world, powering everything from tanks to fighter jets to Humvees to generators. The military’s dependence on oil and its variability, despite increases in domestic production, continues to be identified as a national security threat.
Defense officials and military officers say there is no real control over this single source of energy, and U.S. reliance on oil empowers countries and regimes hostile to the United States. Furthermore, because oil is traded globally, the risk posed by vulnerable trade routes – and the cost of protecting those routes – is a constant threat to U.S. security. And, as was learned during the military’s engagements in Afghanistan earlier in the last decade, delivering that oil on the battlefield is a dangerous job – one in every 24 fuel convoys there ended with a casualty.
Given those concerns, the pursuit of clean energy alternatives is an operational imperative. The deployable and decentralized energy production possibilities offered by renewable sources, and by enabling technologies like microgrids, have tremendous implications for the safety, security and effectiveness of the military. Military leaders point out that renewable energy and efficiency improvements can increase warfighter capability, enhance the energy security of its installations, and cut operational and military base energy costs.
The Pentagon’s deployment of biofuel-blended aviation and shipping fuels, or gas-electric hybrid battleships stand to reduce petroleum consumption by the world’s largest single oil buyer.
The Reuters story notes a Defense Department report showing the military nearly doubled renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015, to 10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes. The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015.
That kind of growth has the benefit of boosting the private sector economy, generating contracts with solar, wind, biofuel, energy storage and other clean energy providers, which, in turn, create tens of thousands of jobs.
Military officials also are aware that bases independently powered by renewables don’t fall vulnerable when natural disasters, physical attacks or cyber attacks take down the public grid.
The military appears set to continue demonstrating innovation and leadership by building on a commitment made by the Pentagon nearly a decade ago to meet 25 percent of its facility energy needs with renewable resources by 2025. It helps that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is a longtime proponent of reducing the military’s dependence on petroleum, citing his service as Commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. In 2003, he called on the Navy to find ways to release troops from the “tether of fuel.”
What the U.S. military has accomplished over the years through the pursuit of its own 25x’25 goal serves as demonstrable proof to our nation’s policy makers of the need for domestically produced, clean energy sources. By supporting new fuels, low- and no-carbon power sources, and stronger efficiency standards, the nation’s military shows the value of clean energy to all Americans.