One of the siren songs for environmentalists is reducing the need for oil so governments don’t feel it necessary to fight wars for it – but ironically, one of the largest drivers in the global push for renewable energy development could well become the military.
According to a study this week by Pike Research, the U.S. Department of Defense as well as combined military agencies in all developed and developing countries are projected to increase annual spending of today’s $1.8 billion to $26.8 billion by 2030.
U.S. DOD renewable energy spending for land, air, and sea mobility alone is estimated to jump 5.6 times in the next four years from $400 million annually to $2.25 billion in 2015. By 2030, it is projected to be spending $7.5 billion annually just on renewable energy for mobility needs.
The various branches of the DOD reportedly combine to form the single largest consumer of energy in the world – more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations.
According to United States Air Force Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, the military renewable energy ball really got rolling with the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act.
A federal mandate also backed it up Oct. 5, 2009, in the form of an executive order signed by President Obama. This required a host of environmentally oriented changes for all federal agencies, including slashing energy budgets and reducing greenhouse gases through 2020.
“It started with the 2009 NDAA and office established by the President a year ago,” Morgan said to GM-Volt yesterday, “However it was a response to the military stating the need to better utilize energy on the battlefield that increases our capability and decreases the risks to the military in the field.”
What it will actually mean for civilian sector electric and hybrid vehicles is open to speculation.
Trickledown benefits from military innovations may be in the span of a year to never depending on what kind of security issues are involved with batteries, biofuels, synthetic fuels, fuel cells – and for that matter, photovoltaics, geothermal energy, hydrokinetics, microgrids, and more technologies included in the sweeping mandates.
What is certain – assuming funding remains in place – is pushing back the renewable energy frontier is not solely up to private equity groups, corporations and individuals. Now the most powerful energy consumers on earth are also making it a priority.
Seeing the implications for civilian transportation, we followed up this week with a call to Senior Analyst, Dave Hurst, of Pike Research. He conferred with Wheelock and agreed that military spending could one way or the other benefit civilian advanced-tech vehicles.
He said one factor affecting whether or not the public sees trickledown depends on how advanced the technology is. If the U.S. military, for example, worked the bugs out of a zinc-air, or other next-generation battery, Hurst said the new technology may not show up in your hybrid or electric car next year or even 10-20 years if it is of strategic advantage to the military, or cost prohibitive for ordinary use – so that is not good news.
If however the military decided to convert a fleet of Humvees to hybrid, or otherwise created a large purchase order, he said, then civilian contractors like LG Chem, A123 Systems, etc., could bid on them. Once defense contracts were awarded, funding to manufacturing would increase production, and ancillary benefits would reach the civilian sector.
In the mobility domain, a focus is yet on biofuels and synfuels for major existing requirements such as tactical vehicles, trucks, tanks, fighter jets, naval vessels, and so forth.
Beyond environmental reasons, as Morgan noted, the push for alternative sources is also tactical, strategic – and it is cost-based.
For example, lighter weight batteries for soldierss to carry can make them tactically more effective. Reducing the amount of fuel consumed by making vehicles more efficient, or offsetting fuel needs with battery-fuel hybrids reduces the amount to transport.
A comprehensive treatment of ramifications is beyond the scope of this article, and involves myriad issues. One thing we can say is we have not heard the end of this, and it will have a ripple effect. Pike Research thinks the info is worth something too – the report costs $3,800 for 1-5 copies, or $5,700 for rights to unlimited copies.
If you want to know more for free, you can download an executive report.