Look Who’s Going Green: the Military

E.B. Boyd by E.B. Boyd | July 29th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living

There are many ways in which waging war is not a green proposition (depleted uranium casings, anyone?). But the military’s huge need for energy is making it a leader in exploring green technologies and renewable energy.

The military has set a goal to get at least 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. But even more immediately, the fact that convoys in Iraq are primary targets for ambushes has made it more urgent for the military to implement renewables. Fuel accounts for 70 percent of those convoys’ cargo. The less fuel convoys have to transport, the thinking goes, the fewer troops put at risk.

Those who subscribe to the “army/bake sale” sentiment (“It’ll be a great day when the schools have all the money they need, and the army has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber“) might reasonably wonder why we should get excited about the military going green. It’s simple. Military innovations often have significant ripple effects out to the rest of us. As Time wrote earlier this year, “If the military-industrial complex can design a long-range missile that travels into space and is guided by light from the stars, it has a good chance of developing new technologies that could help governments meet emission targets without making draconian cuts to energy usage.”

So here are nine ways the military is leading the charge into the renewable energy future:

  • Solar. The biggest solar array in the Americas is at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The base gets about a quarter of its power from the site, which was completed in 2007.
  • Geothermal. One of the world’s largest geothermal plants is at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station near Death Valley in California. Built in the 1980s, the 270-MW plant produces enough energy to power the entire base.
  • Ocean thermal energy conversion. The Navy is experimenting with a new way of generating energy from the temperature differences between the surface of the ocean and the water beneath it.
  • LEED-certified base. The Navy is in the process of building the greenest military base in the world on Guam. Ten thousand Marines and their families are expected to start arriving in 2013. The Navy has required that all construction meet LEED silver certification or greater.
  • Solar field shelters. Soldiers on the move throw up tents for shelter. An Iowa company figured out that all that sun-facing surface could be put to good use. They produced solar field shelters for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center.
  • Foam insulation. Mercury-busting temperatures in Iraq mean that troops have spent inordinate amounts of fuel firing up generators to bring AC to their tents. Now some bases are using foam insulation on the tents, which is reducing energy requirements by 40 percent.
  • Fuel conservation. Navy ships are required to go slower than their maximum speed in order to save fuel. In 2007, the Navy avoided using 1 million barrels of oil by requiring that ships operate at configurations that maximize fuel economy.
  • Real-time greenhouse gas monitoring. The military has set up real-time greenhouse gas monitoring at Fort Carson in Colorado and is in the process of rolling it out to 11 more.
  • Neighborhood electric vehicles. The military already uses Peapod-like neighborhood electric vehicles at many of its installations. But now it has asked manufacturers to build a more sophisticated model that could replace larger cars and SUVs.


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