The U.S. military uses more energy than any single organization in the world, at a cost of $15 billion a year for operations across the globe, with almost all those dollars going to fuel costs. But that dependence has a human cost. More than 3,000 U.S. soldiers or contractors have been killed or wounded in fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan – 60 percent of all combat deaths in the two wars.
energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan explored how the Department of Defense is working to cut fossil-fuel dependency and improve energy efficiency while maintaining its tactical edge to save American lives on the battlefield.
“We just launched the first hybrid ship,” said Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, speaking about the USS Makin Island, a $2.5 billion amphibious assault ship designed to carry Marine Harrier jets. “(It) saved $2 million in fuel costs, first voyage.” The Makin Island’s hybrid technology is expected to save the military $250 million in fuel costs over its 40-year life span.
One of Mabus’ goals is to cut fossil fuel use in half by the year 2020, but critics point to a report out by the Rand Corporation that says biofuels are unproven, too expensive, and lack infrastructure to support demand from an organization as large as the U.S. military. Mabus disagreed with critics of the military’s greening effort. “As the demand increases, from the Navy and the Marine Corps and the other services, you’re going to see the price begin to go down and you’re going to see infrastructure begin to be built.”
The Navy’s fleet already gets 17 percent its energy from a non-fossil fuel source – nuclear power. But by 2016, it will have a completely fossil fuel-free strike force.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Marine Corps is shifting to renewable energy to power its operations. Camp Pendleton, in California, is installing solar panels on existing buildings and recently received a fleet of hydrogen-fuel vehicles. Nearby Camp Miramar just completed the world’s largest solar carport, complete with EV charging stations.
While the military has made great strides in going green, Secretary Mabus said the potential to save energy is recruiting even more supporters. “It’s not something that I’m pushing that everybody else is resisting. I’m pushing on an open door here.”