October 18, 2011

US military to invest $10 billion a year in renewable energy

Congress may be dithering over green energy, but the US military has no qualms about its value.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) - one of the largest energy consumers in the world at 300,000 barrels of oil a day - is quickly moving toward energy efficiency and renewables to reduce risks to soldiers, enhance national energy security, and save money.

DOD is committed to getting 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025, the Air Force plans to use biofuels for 50% of domestic aviation by 2016 and the Navy will reduce fuel consumption on ships 15% by 2020.

11.3% of DOD's energy now comes from renewables, saving US taxpayers billions of dollars.

Military spending on renewable energy spiked over 300% between 2006-2009, to $1.2 billion, and is expected to exceed $10 billion a year by 2030, according to "From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces," by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.

DOD currently spends about $20 billion a year on energy - 75% for fuel and 25% for facilities and infrastructure, according to Pike Research.

DOD is focusing on vehicle efficiency, advanced biofuels, and energy efficiency and renewable energy at bases.

It's expected to spend $2.25 billion a year by 2015 for  efficient vehicles used in the air, land, and sea, while improving the energy efficiency of its buildings around the world - more than 500,000 of them.

That level of spending will have a considerable impact on the growth of the renewable industry. It has the potential to bridge the 'valley of death' that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies,"  says Pike Research in another report, "Renewable Energy for Military Applications."

Unlike Congress, where kowtowing to climate change deniers has stopped meaningful energy policy in its tracks, the military can simply adopt a policy on green energy and act on it. Senior military commanders embrace clean energy and increasingly view reliance on fossil fuels as a liability.

For example, fuel convoys - soldiers transporting liquid fuel to bases in Afghanistan - account for 80% of supply convoys, and are the easiest targets for enemies. As many as one in 46 convoys suffered a casualty in 2010.

"Before the end of the decade, our programs to develop and use renewable sources of energy, on shore and at sea, will pay for themselves. We will save the department money, but more importantly, these energy initiatives will make us better war fighters and will saves lives," says Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Existing Projects

"Project SolarStrong," announced in September, will double the number of residential solar systems in the US by installing 160,000 rooftop systems at 124 military housing developments.

In April, the US Army announced a "net zero" program:
6 bases will be net zero energy, producing all the energy they consume on site, 6 will be "net zero" water by limiting and recycling water, and 6 will be "net  zero" waste by constructing net zero housing, recycling waste and phasing out landfills. That number will grow to 25 in each net zero category in 2014.

In August, John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, announced a new task force to coordinate development of large-scale renewable energy projects on bases across the US.

The innovative program allows renewable energy developers to site projects on Army bases - solar, wind, geothermal - in exchange for free or reduced priced energy. It's expected to attract over $7 billion in investment over 10 years - 20 projects are already under way.

Other DOD programs include Air Force major solar installations; the Navy's use of algal-derived fuels for ships and airplaines; and $510 million for aviation and marine biofuels.

The US military alone may provide the path to scale for renewable energy technologies. One wonders how much longer it will take for Congress to wake up to its responsibilities and play a meaningful role in the transition to a low-carbon economy as well. 


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