To many Americans, energy security might seem a vague, quasi-utopian concept—along the lines of “paying off the national debt.” But for the U.S. military, finding new ways to deploy renewable energy as quickly as possible is about more than saving money at the pump or cutting emissions. According to The New York Times, top Pentagon officials have made the determination that reducing dependence on petroleum in the theater will not only save lives, but could someday mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Navy secretary Ray Mabus has called for 50 percent of the power used by Navy and the Marines Corps to come from renewable energy by 2020. The target may seem overly ambitious, but rapidly adjusting to changing situations on the ground is one of the core components of all military training—and right now, energy transportation is proving to be among the most costly and dangerous operations in the current war.
According to The Times, fossil fuels make up between 30 and 80 percent of the convoy load in Afghanistan. Transporting petroleum there can cost as much as $400 per gallon, and according to a retired senior logistician who served under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, as many as 1,000 military personnel and contractors have likely lost their lives in fuel convoys since 2001.
The vast majority of that fuel doesn’t go toward ground vehicles, but to powering the generators needed to supply both larger bases and squadrons in the field. Last week, the Marines deployed portable solar panels, solar-generating tents and energy efficient lighting for the first time, to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
The Navy has also recently experimented with hybrid assault vessels, launching its first one last year. On just its first voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, the U.S.S. Makin Island saved 900,000 gallons of fuel versus a similar conventional ship. The Army has also ordered a hybrid Ground Combat Vehicle that will one day replace the ubiquitous Bradley Fight Vehicle.
The Pentagon has been actively soliciting a host of other oil and energy-saving solutions from contractors, making green warfare a possible boom industry for the thousands of companies that supply the armed forces. Unlike cash-strapped municipalities or private energy companies looking to make their investments gradually, the Military usually finds the money it needs to get the groundbreaking technology it wants. Even if initial overhead in research and investment proves to be steep, the Pentagon is confident that moving to renewables will begin paying dividends almost immediately.