U.S. military

Could Renewable Energy Be The Next Big Thing?

It is safe to say the Internet, which started as as a military application, revolutionized society.

Now, a new Pike Research report suggests a similar scenario is possible in renewable energy, which the Department of Defense is aggressively pursuing as it seeks to cut costs, reduce its carbon footprint and increase energy security. Going Green could be the next big thing.

"Pike Research sees the DOD as a key driver in a (renewable energy) revolution that will directly impact non-military sectors, much the way the Internet and GPS have progressed over the last decade," the study says, noting a caveat: the energy must be reliable, and meet extensive testing and certification standards.

The study projects the military's investment in the procurement and production of renewable energy will reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030. As the largest power consumer in the world - using 80 percent of the government's total energy annually - the military's influence is immense. It's easy to see the logic behind Pike's projection.

Every branch of the military is going green. The Army is building solar arrays. The Navy and Air Force are turning to biofuels, fuel cells and hybrid-electric technology. Marines in Afghanistan have solar-powered equipment to avoid deadly oil-supply runs. Read more about that here.

The military also is testing wind turbines and geothermal, and conserving more energy by replacing pumps and lighting. The Department of Defense has about 450 clean energy projects as of early 2010. One of the most ambitious: creating net-zero military bases that produce as much energy as they consume.

But even the military, with all its resources and $809 billion budget (23 percent of all government spending), has limitations. This blog, written by a retired general and a green-minded business leader, notes that the private sector isn't developing the sought-after technology fast enough.

The Pike report cites some military/private sector partnerships, such as testing camelina-based fuel developed by a Montana company, but the bloggers suggest the military establish more relationships between the private and public sectors - just as past partnerships between military and business advanced the Internet and space travel.

The support of the military - and the increasing awareness by Big Business that sustainability pays off socially and economically - bodes well for the green movement in general. If renewable energy takes off like the Internet, the resource-rich and geographically blessed San Joaquin Valley in California's heartland could reap huge benefits.

The Lemoore Naval Air Station is on tap to get solar panels, but much more could come to the area. Dozens of solar projects are already proposed in the region between Stockton and the Grapevine, and the fast-growing Valley, blessed with land, sun, wind resources to its north and south and wedged between three major population centers, is well positioned to capitalize on the emerging green economy.

Photo from gizmag.com