The Department Of Defense Goes Green

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I never thought I’d see the day when the U.S. Armed Forces would inch a step closer toward tree hugging (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). The Defense Department is now aiming to deploy 3 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, to power their facilities.

For the sake of context – the deployment of these 3 GWs of renewable energy is enough to power 750,000 homes.

This objective isn’t strictly aspirational – it’s the law. In 2005, the Energy Policy Act required all federal agencies to source at least five percent of their energy consumption by renewables in the fiscal year 2012. From 2010 to 2012, the number of renewable energy projects increased by 54 percent, according to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Not only is this plan pretty ambitious, but so is its timetable.

Another piece of legislation states that the Department of Defense’s goal is, “to produce or procure not less than 25 percent of the total quantity of facility energy it consumes within its facilities during fiscal year 2025 and each fiscal year thereafter from renewable energy sources.” As of now, the goal is to hit 15 percent by 2018 and 20 percent by 2020. The Air Force and the Army have set a goal of obtaining 1 GW by 2016 and 2025 respectively. All of these goals should be achieved at no cost to the taxpayer since the DoD will use private sector financing.

To double down even further on green energy, the Obama administration announced the opening of a 30,000 square foot lab in Detroit. The goal of this lab is to develop energy technologies for a new generation of combat vehicles that will utilize fuel cells, hybrid systems, and other alternative fuels.

These aggressive energy goals are in response to a few factors, the first being how costly energy – specifically oil – has become.

The DoD spent in excess of $20 billion on energy and consumed over five billion gallons of oil in 2012. Even though the Defense Department accounts for less than one percent of all domestic energy use, it remains the single largest consumer of energy in the nation.

The second factor is what the DoD’s Annual Energy Management Report calls “Enhancing Energy Security.”

In 2012, the DoD conducted a survey of utility outages on military installations. The survey reported that 87 outages occurred, abroad and domestically, that lasted for eight hours or longer. It also found that acts of nature cause over half of all utility outages and account for 98 percent of the estimated $7 million dollars of financial impact from all outages. Together with an emerging microgrid and storage technologies, the DoD claims that renewable power will help increase the energy security of military installations overall.

In response, the military has made a shift towards solar, geothermal, and other forms of renewables to meet energy requirements.

A breakdown of the DoD’s renewable energy projects in 2012 reveals that geothermal electric power (thermal energy that is generated in the earth and then extracted from it) accounted for 49 percent of the organization’s goal attainment. In 2012, the Navy’s California-based China Lake geothermal plant supplied nearly half of the Department’s renewable energy production, according to the DoD’s energy report. Solar PV systems (solar panels), solar thermal energy (panels that harness heat), and wind combined accounted for 28 percent of the Department’s goal attainment.

The military is on a path to become a leader in the application of solar energy and has already saved hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. While solar and other forms of renewable energy are becoming a viable answer to the rising costs of conventional fuels, the DoD’s move to green will be the foundation of the branch’s energy goals for the future.

About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at ebates0@gmail.com.
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