Military green investments could hit $10B by 2030

Defense Department policy shifts toward using more clean energy in order to increase national security and save money, which could have far-reaching effects, according to Pew.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
4 min read

Breakdown of the DOD's energy use for operations and facilities. Eighty-one percent of operational costs go toward jet fuel, while 64 percent of facilities costs go toward electricity. Pew Environmental Group/Federal Energy Management Report 2010

It's no secret to anyone following green tech that the Department of Defense has taken a particular interest in advanced biofuels, vehicle fuel efficiency, renewable energy, and building efficiency. But many may not realize to what extent the DOD has changed its policy, or the large impact this shift is going to have on the economy, according to a report released yesterday afternoon by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report (PDF) asserts that the DOD is one of the world's largest institutional consumers of fossil fuels, consuming 300,000 barrels of oil a day in 2009. The DOD's energy cost for 2010 was $15.2 billion (PDF) with 74 percent going to operations and 26 percent going to facilities. About $11 billion of that was spent on liquid petroleum fuels, according to the report.

The study and the report, which took two years to complete, was overseen by retired Republican Senator John Warner, who is a former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and former Secretary of the Navy. Warner is the senior policy adviser at the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate.

Aside from cost, a major nuisance of fossil fuel dependence is the danger involved in having to transport liquid fuels to combat areas, and the impact fuel availability has on the effectiveness of military operations. The DOD has estimated that 80 percent of supply convoy missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are for fuel, according to the report.

In view of that, the DOD has determined that incorporating renewables and other green tech into its energy ecosystem will improve security for the armed forces, as well as national security.

A move to less fossil fuel, especially in light of volatile oil prices, will also save the branches of the military money long-term both home and abroad, according to the report.

To that end, the DOD has set the ambitious goal of getting 25 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2025.

The U.S. Air Force plans to be on 50 percent biofuels for all its domestic aviation needs by 2016. The U.S. Navy plans to reduce ship fuel consumption by 15 percent by 2020 compared to its 2010 levels. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines both plan to get 50 percent of their needed energy from alternative energy sources by 2020.

And while all branches of the military have plans to upgrade bases and installations (PDF) with more efficiency for buildings, the U.S. Army has a "net zero" program under way to get its bases to produce as much energy and water as they consume, and reduce, recycle, and reuse their waste. Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Carson in Colorado are on track to be net zero in all three categories by 2020.

There have also been myriad smaller rollouts and programs within the last few years.

Military bridge at Camp Mackall in North Carolina made from Axion's thermoplastic composite (a type of recycled plastic) is strong enough to support the M1A1, a 70-ton tank. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army/Dawn Elizabeth Pandoliano

The Navy began using algae-based shipboard fuel on a limited basis in 2010. The Army began replacing its light-use vehicles on military bases with electric vehicles and ordered military bridges made of recycled thermoplastic composite in 2009.

The Marine 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment at Forward Operating Base Jackson, and their Afghan national army counterparts have been using portable solar charges in Afghanistan that enable them to carry fewer batteries and more ammunition, solar tarps on tents to power lights, and solar panels to power mobile command centers and computers.

The report noted that the DOD's shift in energy policy is a wise choice in terms of saving money and improving its own security drastically in the coming years. But its switch is also a secondary way to protect American national security, by helping the country to become less dependent on foreign energy sources. As in other areas of tech, military investment in green technology will help it reach commercial maturity more quickly, the report said.

"In fact, the department has created a far-reaching memorandum of understanding with the Department of Energy to help accelerate the innovation process in service of the nation's energy and national security goals. DOD and DOE are working cooperatively on advanced batteries, energy efficiency, microgrids, and 'smart' technology," said the report.

Concurrent with this shift in policy, DOD clean-energy investments increased from $400 million in 2006 to $1.2 billion in 2009, a 300 percent increase. The institution plans to invest even more, projecting its green-tech investments will reach $10 billion annually by 2030.

Warner said he's not surprised that the DOD will once again be the leader in a new space as it's always been one of the earliest supporters of cutting-edge technology.

"The Department of Defense fostered the Internet, GPS, computer software, and other economically important innovations. Today, our uniformed men and women and their civilian counterparts are committed to transforming the way the department uses energy through efficiency and technology development. Their accomplishments and innovations are enhancing our national security, our economic security, and our environmental security," Warner said in a statement.