From experimental solar-powered desert bases for the Marines to Navy robots that run on wave energy, the military is quickly becoming a leading buyer of cutting-edge renewable energy technology.
For the armed services, the benefits extend beyond reducing fuel convoy casualties. A fighting force that isn’t restricted by the reach of a tanker truck or weighted down by heavy batteries is more nimble and, as a result, more lethal.
For renewable energy companies, the military is proving to be a vital customer, buying the latest in clean energy gadgets and encouraging private investment. The hope is the armed services can shepherd this technology to the point where it becomes commercially viable, much like it did a generation ago for GPS systems or the Internet.
Being energy independent isn’t just a feel-good environmental issue for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are huge risks and logistical challenges involved in transporting oil around war zones. Fuel in Iraq generally arrives through tanker ships, while fuel in Afghanistan is delivered via truck convoy from Pakistan to distribution centers. Truck conveys then have to redistribute the oil to other bases, and sometimes fuel must be helicoptered in.
Bases that can use diesel or other fuels to run their everyday needs are safer and in a better tactical position. Several bases currently use clean energy for generators that power everything from air conditioning in tents, to computers running battlefield management software. Indeed, the U.S. Army is forming a task force to work with developers to spend as much as $7.1 billion over the next decade to build renewable power plants at U.S. military sites.