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Energy Security By The Numbers

5 min. read

Here are a few numbers to ponder:

72

That's the number of U.S. soldiers that died protecting oil convoys on their way to forward-operating bases in Iraq in 2009.

400

That's the estimated cost per gallon for getting fuel to a war zone in Afghanistan, including transportation and security (underwritten by U.S. taxpayer dollars, of course).

And 6.5

That’s the number of dollars, in billions, that the U.S. would save annually if every military unit serving in Iraq implemented the Marine field-tested Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS) system.

These are just a few of the key statistics driving each of our armed services to partner with the cleantech sector in providing soldiers the tools and technology they need to do their jobs in a safer and more secure fashion. They are also the thrust behind U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus's keynote address at last week's Clean Economy Summit, which I attended.

Mabus spoke to a packed room of several hundred cleantech investors, entrepreneurs and policy experts on the need to continue procuring clean technologies that will help the military significantly reduce its energy costs and enhance its energy security. Here are a few excerpts from his speech worth noting:

…15 months ago, I issued five pretty ambitious energy goals for the Navy and Marine Corps. Most overarching of those is that no later than 2020, at least half of all the energy that we use, both afloat and ashore, will come from non-fossil fuel sources. Also by 2020, at least half our bases will be net-zero in terms of consumption. And in a lot of cases, we think we’ll be returning power to the grid rather than pulling power from it.

As President Obama has so eloquently said, the reasons for changing the way we use, the way we produce and the way we acquire energy are very clear.

Now, there are obvious environmental benefits that come from reducing fossil-fuel emissions and the Department of the Navy’s carbon footprint. There are also some very clear economic benefits; a clean-energy economy supports American workers and it creates thousands of new jobs.

Mabus went on to discuss the military's overreliance on fossil fuels:

Simply put, we as a military rely too much on fossil fuels. That dependence creates strategic, operational and tactical vulnerabilities for our forces and makes them susceptible to price and supply shocks caused by either man-made or natural disasters in the volatile areas of the world where most fossil fuels are produced.

He then cites the example of Marines in combat, whose only source of energy at times is solar-powered equipment:

And now, I want to talk just for a minute about the United States Marine Corps. Nobody has ever accused the United States Marine Corps of being soft on anything. The Marine Corps is ahead of everybody in terms of looking for energy solutions for its operating forces. They’ve got two test beds - one at Quantico and one at Camp Pendleton at Twenty-nine Palms in California - experimental Forward Operating Bases looking at different ways of producing energy.

And last fall, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines deployed to Sangin where the heaviest fighting for the Marines is taking place right now in Afghanistan.

And when they deployed, they took a bunch of new energy devices and energy-saving solutions with them. I went to Sangin right before Christmas. And I saw and heard firsthand about how the equipment worked and what didn’t work, and how the Marines were using it.

But what is important to note is that the Marines were beginning to use things like solar panels, like portable, roll-up solar power that they could put in their packs. And they were beginning to use it in the midst of the heaviest fighting that the Marines were doing. They have deployed a whole bunch of different fixed, flexible and portable solar-power systems. And sometimes, it’s the only power that those Marines have.

Mabus also discussed the Navy’s efforts on energy efficiency – what is sometimes referred to as the lowest-hanging fruit or the cheapest “negawatts” (because they are the ones that are never generated), thereby saving money and cutting pollution:

On the efficiency front, I went and visited one of our bases and the commanding officer. It’s amazing when the secretary starts talking about one thing because when I first went out and got briefed, when I first stepped to this job, the breakthroughs were great but they were all over the map. Now, first thing they talk about is let me tell you what we’re doing on industry. And this commanding officer said, he went and looked at his electric bill and it had one line: 85 percent of all the electricity coming into that base, one line said, line loss. It came in but it didn’t go back out. He didn’t know where it was being used. He didn’t know what buildings were energy efficient or weren’t. He didn’t know who was using well, who wasn’t, what the peak times were, anything.

And so we used some of the stimulus money that the Navy was given and we put smart meters on just about all our bases. So that commander and his cohorts, they’re going to know where that electricity is being used. They’re going to know who is using power and who’s not. They’re going to know who’s being careful and who’s not and where we need to work on things like energy efficiency in buildings and where we don’t.

The bottom line I take away is that the Department of Defense (DoD) seems far ahead of a number of civilian sectors when it comes to adopting a cost-effective, sustainable infrastructure for ever-growing energy needs. Beyond the Marines, the U.S. Air Force is home to one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) installations in the country at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada and other projects at other bases are in the pipeline. And, the U.S. military appears to be leading on a number of technological advances and demonstration projects necessary to scale a clean economy that is less dependent on coal, oil and other fossil fuels. These are the same fuels that have been the recipient of massive federal subsidies for 90 years while making our soldiers and our bases more vulnerable to attacks.

The DoD’s continued use of clean, renewable energy sources bears watching over the coming months and years.