It’s one thing thinking about how the majority of the population power their homes, and it’s another thinking about where institutions comprising millions of people and thousands of machines source their energy from. The U.S. Department of Defense has a fleet of over 500,000 aircrafts, vessels and vehicles; with figures like that it must be difficult for the US military to keep their carbon footprint low. All in all, the US military accounts for around 2% of all US energy consumption.
In 2009, the US military consumed around 375,000 barrels of oil per day. This might, one day, have sounded like a perfectly fine figure for such a large, important institution, but in a world concerned with sustainable energy and global warming, it sounds dangerous – which is exactly why the Department of Defense has adapted its strategy to fit today’s economic climate.
For the US Military, it’s not just about saving the planet; relying on petroleum, much of which is sourced abroad, puts the US in a vulnerable position. Without large reserves of energy, the military is practically helpless – renewable energy is important for a country to gain energy independence, and so is considered by the Department of Defense as an issue of national security, and not merely an environmental matter.
In a bid to rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy, the DoD are looking for efficient, clean and renewable fuels. Not just those that are sustainable and easily replenished by the natural world, but fuels that don’t cause harmful byproducts to be pumped into the environment; this, obviously, means that fossil fuels are not high in the US military’s new list of priorities.
It’s looking like biofuels are going to comprise a good proportion of the military’s new energy resources. The Obama administration have already announced a partnership between some private-sector companies, the Department of Agriculture, the US Navy and the Department of Energy, who will invest $510 million into biofuel production over the next three years. On top of this, the Navy and the Air Force are both experimenting with biofuel alternatives to traditional fossil fuels, which could save the DoD over 60% of its annual fossil fuel consumption.
While it’s still early days for biofuel production – which hasn’t yet had the kind of coverage of energies like solar and wind power – the military are putting a lot of their expectations in the success of their biofuel experimentation, with the Air Force hoping to provide power sourced from biofuel for 50% of its domestic aviation needs by 2016, and the Navy hoping for similar figures by 2020.
Of course, solar technologies – both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal – are also a large part of the US military’s latest investments in renewable energies. In September 2011, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced what turned out to be the largest domestic residential rooftop solar project in history, costing a total of $334 million. This money goes towards 160,000 rooftop solar installations atop military housing complexes in 34 states.
Solar power might also be employed in the use of high-efficiency solar mats in soldiers’ packs. The mats can be laid out in sunlight and used to power almost anything, from fans to laptops, which will save the military not only energy consumption, but also around 15 pounds of weight that every soldier spends carrying around more conventional batteries.
All of these technologies are still in their early stages; if the military really want to achieve their goal of efficiency, they’re going to have to make leaps and bounds in terms of technology before renewable energy can be used across the board in military operations. However, with millions of dollars in investments and new labs being dedicated to the cause across the country, it looks like the military’s conversion to renewable energy supplies will do wonders for the US, both in terms of the economy and security.
About the Author
Jessica Wilson is a renewable energy and conservation enthusiast. When she isn’t writing about renewable energy she enjoys hill walking and kayaking.