When American citizens think of groups promoting energy conservation, they usually don’t think of the military. But the U.S. Department of Defense says that energy efficiency is good for national security, can save money for the military, and most importantly saves soldiers’ lives in combat. The agency expects to reduce energy-related expenses by at least $1.6 billion 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.
The United States military is the country’s largest energy consumer, and it is now embracing conservation and sustainability. The volatility of the oil market in recent years has made defense officials realize the importance of energy efficiency and reduced dependence on oil. Supply convoys that deliver fuel in combat zones are prime targets for attacks. Fewer convoys mean less vulnerability, making it safer to fight a war.
Many of the projects that will help the agency achieve its goals are already under way. One of these is a $120-million-a-year conservation program focused on making all 300,000 buildings on military bases in the United States and beyond more efficient. Project activities include insulating buildings, equipping them with solar panels, and installing electric meters to track energy consumption. All buildings of every size and shape will have meters by 2012.
On transportation, 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 — all part of an effort to dramatically reduce its dependency on oil.
Even in aviation, there is innovation in energy use. 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. And the U.S. Navy flew a F/A-18 jet powered by biofuel mixed with regular jet fuel.
Many officials and private-sector observers are paying close attention to these developments. In the past, the military has been a key catalyst for private-sector advancement in so-called breakthrough technologies. The 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. If such cooperation were successful, it could have a major impact on fossil-fuel emissions.
The Defense Department is also continuing to serve as a test bed for new technology. The agency is inviting private companies to demonstrate new energy technology on military bases and is funding projects with $30 million from its conservation budget. Such support for projects helps improve the financial prospects for alternative fuels, accelerates fuel certification efforts, and creates larger markets for innovative energy-related products.
This podcast is produced by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs.