Washington — The U.S. Department of Defense’s mission always has been, and continues to be, to defend the nation. It’s in that same spirit that the military, the United States’ largest energy consumer, is now embracing conservation and sustainability.
Energy efficiency, U.S. defense officials say, is good for national security and it can save the lives of soldiers in combat — not to mention money. The agency expects to trim at least $1.6 billion in expenses after investing $780 million in new energy-savings projects between 2004 and 2011.
Such realities, coupled with a renewed focus on energy efficiency within the Obama administration, have prompted the Defense Department to set a more aggressive emission-reduction target than any other federal agency: 34 percent by 2020, instead of the 28 percent goal set for the federal government as a whole. Many of the projects that will help the agency achieve that goal already are under way.
“The volatility of the oil market in recent years and how that drives your budget has made us realize that we need to become less dependent on oil. And this is very much tied together with our mission,” said Joe Sikes, the Defense Department’s director for facilities energy. “The tether of fuel on the war front, and delivering fuel to the front, is very dangerous. Truck convoys are prime target for attacks, so if you have fewer convoys it probably makes it safer to fight the war.”
Sikes oversees a $120-million-a-year conservation program focused on making all 300,000 buildings on military bases in the United States and beyond waste less energy. Project activities include insulating buildings, equipping them with solar panels and installing electric meters to track energy consumption. All buildings, which come in every size and shape, will have meters by 2012.
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Earlier this year, the Army announced that it would lease 4,000 electric vehicles over the next three years for passenger transport, security patrols and delivery services at its bases nationwide. The Army is also in the early stages of testing hybrid military logistics vehicles for possible purchase — all part of an effort to dramatically reduce its dependency on oil.
Similar initiatives can be found across all branches of the U.S. military.
In March, the U.S. Air Force flew, for the first time, an A-10 Thunderbolt II military jet on a blend of biomass and conventional fuel. On Earth Day, celebrated April 22, it will be the Navy’s turn to demonstrate its commitment to alternative fuel technology. That day, a so-called Green Hornet F/A-18 jet powered by fuel made from the Camelina sativa plant mixed with regular jet fuel will take off from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, southeast of Washington.
As has been the case before, the military can be a trailblazer for the private sector. The nation’s Defense Energy Support Center recently signed an agreement with the Air Transport Association of America, which represents all major commercial airlines, to promote commercialization of environmentally friendlier aviation fuels. The airline industry and the Defense Department together consume more than 1.5 million barrels of jet fuel daily, which means such collaboration, if successful, could have a major impact on fossil-fuel emissions.
“By combining our talents and experience, we are better positioned to explore cooperative market engagement for fuel,” said James May, the association’s president and chief executive, in a statement March 19. The collaboration would help improve the financial prospects for alternative fuels and accelerate fuel certification efforts, he added.
The Defense Department is also continuing to serve as a test bed for new technology. The agency is inviting private companies to demonstrate their new energy technology on a military base and is funding the projects with $30 million from its conservation budget. A couple of projects are already under way — one energy data management project and one focused on innovative photovoltaic (solar) buildings.
“We provide that initial market for these companies, and in some cases it will help our mission, too,” Sikes said.