With personnel nearly the same size as the population of Chicago and a fleet of over 500,000 aircraft, vessels, and vehicles, the U.S. Department of Defense is a massive and energy-hungry institution.
Last year alone, the military consumed some 375,000 barrels of oil per day, more than three-quarters of all other countries on the planet. To put that in perspective, Nigeria — with a population of more than 140 million — consumes about the same amount.
During the decades of cheap fuel and easy access, feeding this complex system spread over 820 global installations was of little concern. In today’s economic climate, however, the Department of Defense (DoD) has had to adapt its energy strategy.
The stakes could not be higher,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement earlier this year. “Energy reform will make us better fighters. In the end, it is a matter of energy independence and it is a matter of national security. Our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum makes us vulnerable in too many ways.
According to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the DoD is taking aim at its annual $15 billion energy budget with a focus on efficiency and development of renewable, clean fuels — three areas that are pivotal in the race to create a more efficient fighting force and strengthen America’s energy independence.
Along with advances in equipment, the Army is seeking new methods to use and secure our scarce energy resources. Clearly, future operations will depend on our ability to reduce dependency, increase efficiency, and use more renewable or alternative sources of energy. We’ve made great strides in this area, and we intend to do more.
The Honorable John McHugh – Secretary of the Army
Perhaps the closest ties between the DoD and the private cleantech sector come through collaborations on sustainable sources of energy. As of April 2010, over 450 renewable initiatives (including solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass) were in use or being developed on military bases.
The shift towards sustainable sources has as much to do with security as it does with budget and autonomy. With the DoD’s heavy reliance on civilian utilities comes increased risk from interruptions due to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Investments in microgrids, which act as self-contained islands of clean energy generation and storage, are an ideal contingency plan. “We know this technology can save fuel and maintenance time for our deployed forces,” said Brigadier General N. Lee S. Price. “Through this project, we can obtain reliable data on these benefits — and lay the groundwork for successful use of microgrids in theater.”
Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies make up the majority of the DoD renewable energy installations and are a focal point of investment.
In September of 2011, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the largest domestic residential rooftop solar project in history: a $334M loan to solar power provider SolarCity that will provide “up to 160,000 rooftop solar installations on top of privately run military housing complexes at 124 military bases across 34 states.” Large scale solar projects are also in development across the U.S. — including a 500-MW solar concentrator project at Fort Irwin in California.