The U.S. Military: The Big Green Machine Gets Even Greener

The military has a history of innovation that eventually goes mainstream. The most notable example, of course, is the Internet. Developed for the military, it revolutionized society. Department of Defense support also helped forge commercial development of global positioning systems and semiconductors.

Green energy and microgrids could be next on the list of advancements to expand beyond military bases and the battlefield. In a new report and a video, PEW Charitable Trusts says the emergence of clean energy and increasingly competitive alternative energy sources "presents DoD (Department of Defense) with opportunities for saving lives and money in the years ahead."

There are challenges, such as an austerity movement (although it could be argued that a strong clean-energy program actually saves money) and fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy, which sidetracked an ambitious plan to attach solar to put solar panels on military housing. Whether the program survives remains to be seen.

Still, the military is moving ahead on other fronts. And it is not alone. Big Business, led by Walmart, Google and others, is pushing on. Walmart is particularly interesting; the world's largest retailer wouldn't be pursuing such an ambitious program if it wasn't profitable. If you want to know more about Walmart's efforts, read this new book.

In fact, there is so much going on that the phrase "industrial revolution" keeps coming up in regard to green energy. Economist Jeremy Rifkin is the latest, calling it "the third Industrial Revolution."

The military's efforts certainly are a catalyst. Using alternative fuel to power jets and other vehicles can sharply reduce dependence upon oil. The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States, gobbling more than 375,000 barrels of oil per day in 2009 - more than all but 35 nations.

Liquid petroleum accounts for about 75 percent of the military's annual energy consumption, and more than $11 billion of its annual power bill. So, electric vehicles and biofuel such as algae and switchgrass can save millions of dollars. Did you know base leaders at Fort Bliss, Texas, drive tiny electric cars made of recycled plastic? Leave the Hummer home, baby!

Recently, a company of Marines operated their equipment solely on solar and battery power for 192 hours, saving eight gallons of fuel per day. And it is quieter, making it safer to operate on the battlefield.

From the report: "The Navy has also made progress on hybrid systems for ships. The USS Makin Island was commissioned in 2009 with a hybrid electric propulsion system that will save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the life of the ship. Looking forward, a hybrid electric drive system will be tested and installed as a proof of concept on the USS Truxtun. The Navy estimates successful testing will result in fuel savings of up to 8,500 barrels per year."

Just as alternative fuel enhances the security of energy supplies, self-contained microgrids and other smart-energy technology can protect the military's 500,000 buildings (totaling 2.2 billion square feet) at 500 major installations from commercial power outages.

Pew cites market analysts who project the military will account for almost 15 percent of the microgrid market in 2013, and that military implementation of microgrids will grow by 375 percent to $1.6 billion annually in 2020.

The Pew report is fascinating, and there is much more than recapped here. After reading it, I'm left with this thought: The influence of the military combined with growing interest in energy efficiency and sustainability by Big Business and others equals the start of a powerful movement that likely will pick up speed as awareness increases.

Photo of soldiers deploying a solar banket by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul D. Williams, US Navy)

Business, Military and Professional Sports Become Leaders in Green Movement

There is no denying the influence of professional sports on consumers.

Professional football, basketball, hockey, soccer and other sports generate $19 billion in revenue annually. Star athletes earn multimillion-dollar paychecks, make millions more in endorsements and have throngs of admirers.

Stick their face on a cereal box, and it flies off the shelves. Footwear makers see sales soar if an athlete promotes their sneakers. So, it is nice to see that professional sports is starting to increase awareness of green living and sustainability.

Six teams - Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Vancouver Canucks, Seattle Storm and Seattle Sounders FC - are founding members of the non-profit Green Sports Alliance. The mission, to quote from its Web site, is to, "reduce the environmental impact of professional sports and to inspire fans to join us in these efforts."

Here's a link to a story on the new sustainability league, which in turn links to the Green Sports Alliance.

One goal is to share best practices on water, energy and waste management. and to share them with other teams.

With big business, the military and now professional sports spurring the green movement, it is only a matter of time until it gains a foothold and takes off.

From Solar To Landfills, The Military Leads The Way To Energy Independence

As politicians in Washington do their partisan dance around clean energy, the military is moving full speed ahead. The Department of Defense recognizes that renewable energy reduces our dependency upon foreign oil, saves American lives and cuts costs.

As this item in Clean Technica states, the military is embracing all things renewable - even generating energy from landfills. At Fort Benning, GA, for example, two new power stations will convert landfill gas to electricity.

Even better, this technology is mobile. The so-called Powerstation can be redeployed on relatively short notice. Like solar backpacks, it is another example of the military's increasing energy independence.

Here, the Department of Defense outlines its platform on renewable energy, and its quest to reduce the role of oil. To further establish its point, the Department of Defense has aligned with the Department of Energy to "strengthen national security" through continued development of clean-energy technology.

Here is a quote from a press release announcing the partnership between the two federal agencies:

"Advances in innovation are helping to solve our military challenges, protect our troops, and enhance our national security. At the same time, these efforts have the potential to yield spin-off technologies with both military and civilian applications that will help create jobs in the U.S. and speed America's transition to a clean energy economy," said Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. "Our joint efforts in everything from advanced vehicles to energy storage to grid security are protecting our men and women in uniform, promoting America's economic prosperity, and improving our environment."

The military has installed solar panels to help power a base in Nevada, planted cool roofs in Texas, and is interested in portable wind power when possible. The military equates its efforts to national security, saying its reliance on fossil fuel leaves the nation vulnerable to hostile nations. There is more in this report from a military advisory board.

About $20 billion of its budget goes toward energy, and every $10 increase in the per-barrel price of oil costs the department an additional $1.3 billion. With incentive to change and a can-do innovative nature, the military is uniquely positioned to lead the charge toward a future of renewable energy.

For The Military, Going Green Is A Matter Of National Security

We've written about Corporate America seizing the reins of the green-energy movement, but Big Business is hardly alone. The military is moving full-speed ahead in an effort to rely less on costly foreign oil and more on renewables, while also saving money through energy conservation.

It really is fascinating to watch. The military no longer wants to be the biggest consumer of fossil fuel in the world. So, ships are heading to sea with hybrid technology that could save billions in fuel costs, soldiers in war zones are using solar energy, the Army has a goal of net-zero energy use and the U.S. Air Force has concluded that saving energy not only saves the environment, but could save lives and money.

The Department of Defense has even established a Web site that details its Green efforts.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a recent clean-energy conference (where he also criticized a RAND Corp. study that questioned the effectiveness of biofuels) that a green fleet makes sense considering the massive costs in dollars and lives of using and hauling oil, and the apparent disconnect of using foreign sources to power ships, planes and tanks that are made in the United States.

How strong the green-energy movement gets in this era of budget cuts and political bickering remains to be seen, but the support of Big Business and the Department of Defense helps keep up the momentum.

Wind Turbines Mess Up Military Radar

The Southern California deserts are proving popular with developers of solar energy. That's not necessarily the case with wind projects.

As this article from the New York Times says, the blades of energy-generating wind turbines can resemble storm systems on the military's weather radar, confusing pilots and controllers. No serious incidents have been reported, but the military is beginning to oppose wind-energy projects in regions close to military bases.

That's kind of ironic because another agency within the federal government, the Department of Energy, has been pushing wind and other types of renewable energy.

Wind energy isn't a huge player in the San Joaquin Valley, although Tehachapi east of Bakersfield is home to 5,000 turbines. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this issue has on development of wind energy. Some experts expect new types of coatings and construction materials could be a solution.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Study: Clean Energy Is The Best National Defense

The San Joaquin Valley is home to Naval Air Station Lemoore, so anything military related is big news here. That should be even more reason to take notice of a study that makes some remarkable recommendations regarding energy, national security and what role the Department of Defense should play.

A military advisory board, in a recent report, says that the nation's dependence on fossil fuels leaves us "unacceptably vulnerable" to hostile nations, and is bad foreign policy. We've referenced the study previously, but dive deeper into it and you come up with some pretty startling stuff. Here's a sample:

"Economically, the nation's heavy oil dependence diverts hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy ($386 billion transferred overseas in 2008 and $350 billion in 2009) and leaves American businesses and governmental agencies vulnerable to unpredictable price volatility...Declining supplies combined with increasing global demand will have severe impacts on the American economy and our ability to remain militarily strong."

At the same time, the report, compiled by some heavy hitters in the military, suggests that a green revolution, while difficult to create, would present great opportunities. The Department of Defense, because of its size, extensive experience in technological innovation and the considerable amount of energy it consumes ($20 billion of its budget goes toward energy and every $10 increase in the per-barrel price of oil costs the department an additional $1.3 billion), is uniquely positioned to lead the charge.

The advisers suggest combining research activities, intellectual capital and budgets of the Departments of defense and energy to create a world-leading clean-energy program, using defense installations as test sites.

Mix in resources from private business, universities (hello, University of California, Merced), and NASA, and you've got a pretty powerful brain trust. In fact, some joint efforts are occurring. Today, the California Energy Commission tentatively approved a grant to help develop biodiesel at a Navy base in Ventura County.

Of course, it won't be easy, and the United States is already falling behind. Spain, Germany, China and even Abu Dhabi, which possesses nearly 10% of the world's proven oil reserves, have launched significant clean-energy initiatives.

Abu Dhabi apparently wants to attract investors and entrepreneurs and become the Silicon Valley of renewable energy.

Why can't we as a nation and California as a state take that leadership role? This state already leads in computer technology, movie making and agriculture. Clean energy could be next.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.