The Brass Goes Green

With a major climate and energy bill on the legislative back burner for the foreseeable future, the need for new ways to move clean energy forward has only become greater. One potential ally in this is the military. Responsible for 1 percent of total U.S. consumption, the military is the largest energy consumer in the nation, giving it the potential to be a major driver of innovation.

TAP sat down with Sherri Goodman, a vice president at the Center for Naval Analyses and a former deputy undersecretary of defense in environmental security, to discuss the military's concern with climate change, its interests in clean-energy technology, and what it's doing to encourage a renewable-energy future.

What are the military's broad strategic concerns with regard to climate change?

[The Department of Defense's] Quadrennial Defense Review, which is a strategy document for the next four years, describes climate change as "an accelerated instability" and also observes that our energy posture makes us vulnerable. So those twin challenges are very much on the minds of defense planners.

What effects is the military worried about?

Increasing water scarcity, rising temperatures, increased extreme weather events, more natural disasters, particularly in low-lying areas in Africa and Asia, [and] reduced agricultural production, putting stress on areas where people already don't have enough food and water. So increased humanitarian-relief and natural-disaster situations [are] very real effects of climate change exacerbating areas that are already politically unstable.

A second, very real dimension is the military's dependence on fossil fuels -- on having to bring water and fuel to the front. That's putting the lives of our soldiers at risk every day. And for that reason, the commandant of the Marine Corps, among others, has been tasked with reducing fuel and water to expeditionary forward operating bases. Which makes our troops more sustainable and able to operate more efficiently.

I saw a study by the Marines that found only 10 percent of their fuel consumption in Iraq was for armed vehicles. The rest was for logistics. So it sounds like there's a good deal of low-hanging fruit?

Absolutely. The U.S. has exported $300 billion approximately, in 2008 and 2009, for fossil fuel to other countries. And every $10 increase in the price of oil costs the Department of Defense $1.3 billion -- money that was diverted from funds that could increase our combat effectiveness. Seventy percent of the tonnage that the military brings to the front is fuel and water. So there's substantial savings to be had in lives and money by making these smart changes.

How do the military's attempts to take on energy efficiency and clean energy intersect with the civilian sector's attempts to do so?

Recently, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that enables them to better cooperate on energy innovation and energy technology.

A significant element of the MOU is that, often when DOD collaborates with other agencies, it's doing so only to meet military requirements. Now, in this case, the military's requirements and the nation's energy needs are very much aligned, but there is also a provision in this MOU that says the two agencies will collaborate to address national-security needs "that transcend military requirements." In other words, a recognition that we as a nation have energy-security needs, some of which are specific to how the military uses energy, but some of which are much broader, which go to our nation's over-dependence on fossil fuels.

So there's an institutional concern that our use of fossil fuel, and our dependence on it, makes us less safe and makes the military's job harder?


There was a recommendation that the Department of Defense get all its bases and facilities to the point where they're net-zero energy consumers by 2030. Are there any recommendations like this the Department of Defense has already taken up?

The services have some individually aggressive goals. The secretary of the Navy in particular has some very aggressive goals to increase renewable-energy use in the Navy by a certain percent by 2015 or 2016. And as you mentioned there are already a number of military installations that have goals of becoming net-zero: Fort Carson, Twentynine Palms, I believe.

This is often how things happen. You start with a pilot [program], get some data and some evidence. How well is that working? How do you need to fine-tune the policy and implementation of it? And then you expand it more broadly within DOD.

The other dimension of this is using military installations as test beds to demonstrate innovative energy technologies both to meet military needs and then also as a place to allow renewables to be placed around the nation. Right now there's the big solar installation at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, there's solar and wind being installed at other military installations around the country. And that energy is being used both for the base and to serve the local community.

There's a post that was created in the 2009 Defense Authorization bill -- director of operational energy plans and programs -- which, as I understand it, is meant to be a kind of hub for all the various parts of the military that are trying to meet clean-energy goals -- to communicate with each other and organize coherently.

That person, whose name is Sharon Burke, has just been confirmed for the job. I think there's a lot of hope and expectation that she can advance DOD's overall goals through operational energy, which is what's used by the troops.

She'll be very focused on liquid-fuel use and other energy needs for weapons systems, so initiatives like the fully burdened cost of fuel. DOD has realized that it hasn't always budgeted for the total cost of fuel; in other words, what you pay at the pump isn't really what it costs to deliver fuel to the front. But if you fully burden it -- and realize that instead of $4 a gallon it costs you $40 a gallon to actually get that gallon of fuel into Iraq or Afghanistan -- that changes how you think about the economics of fuel in DOD.

Traditionally, energy wasn't included in the costing of a weapons system. Which is why you have a very long logistics tail that's dragging down the fighting tooth of the military.