Antibiotics, jet travel, the Internet and GPS.
Those are just a few things made possible by military investments that paved the way for mainstream commercial applications benefiting millions of Americans. The same process is going on with the military and renewable energy. And what makes the process today all the more beneficial is the human lives saved and economic gain implementing renewable energy technologies can achieve.
A new report prepared for the Civil Society Institute (CSI) shows that the Department of Defense has served as an incubator for some of our most important technologies. The CSI report — “Department of Defense: Renewable Energy & Tech Transfer” — had a collection of interesting findings, and framed the discussion of renewable energy in a different and distinct light.
This “plus” for the American economy is significant, but the military’s groundbreaking focus on renewable energy also keeps Americans serving in combat safer. Transport lines — or convoy routes — required for fossil-fuel energy options are a prime target for enemy attacks and a source of troop deaths. Shipments are, on average, 50 percent fuel, 20 percent bottled water and 30 percent other necessary items, including munitions. According to an Army report published in 2007, there was one casualty per every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan and one casualty for every 39 fuel convoys in Iraq.
Economically speaking, the total energy budget for the Department of Defense (inclusive of domestic and international installations and operations) ebbs and flows around $20 billion. Every $10 increase in price per barrel on the world market equates to an additional annual departmental energy cost of $1.3 billion. Many technologies being implemented at forward operating bases, where the real human life savings will be realized, simply rely on the sun rising in the East — and last I checked there isn’t an OPEC authorizing international agency that regulates worldwide “sun” prices.
As the CSI report detailed, the Department of Defense is in a unique position to have the breadth and depth necessary to acquire emerging technologies from the civilian sector and test them in real-world settings. Once the technology has been fine-tuned and widely used within the department, a transfer back into the civilian sector is fairly seamless. Better yet, the starting price for civilians is approachable, and within a few short years the price point will be further reduced. Presently, the DoD is beginning to incorporate renewable-energy technologies in both domestic and overseas operations. Senior military leadership recognizes the tactical and strategic advantages that reduced energy dependence affords them, and benefits to the civilian sector are forthcoming.
Focus within the DoD has been placed on feasibly implementing various renewable energy technologies at forward operating bases to reduce the “fully burdened cost” — human lives and economics. According to the CSI report, the Marine Corps has established an experimental forward base in Afghanistan to actually field-test various renewable energy technologies. Among the most promising technologies so far are the following:
• ReGenerator: Multi-fuel capable generator that can generate up to 1,200 watts of integrated solar, 2,400 watts of external solar and 1,200 watts of wind, along with managing fossil fuel generators. It also can store an additional 25.9 kilowatt hours in batteries that can support a charge from a 120 VAC or 240 VAC generator or grid connection. The integrated solar panels are adapted to harsh climatic conditions and have been field-tested.
• Oshkosh HEMTT-A3: Tactical hybrid truck that utilizes electricity generated from on-board diesel-electric generators to power each of the four axles. Functionality is not lost — it is capable of hauling 13 tons of cargo while cruising at 65 miles per hour.
• Arroyo 500: Perhaps the most intriguing technology in play — An air-to-water generator where moisture is captured from the air and concentrated by a high-temperature desiccant wheel, collected and purified into potable water.
Two generations ago, the military transformed American society by spearheading the advancement of non-whites into key positions, thus prompting corporate America to do the same and advance thousands of people of color. Today, the Department of Defense is demonstrating that a concerted national effort can lead to significant breakthroughs in clean energy and even greater fuel economy for transportation, as opposed to investing in cost-ineffective technology — such as expensive and risky nuclear power and non-existent “clean coal.”
And as with antibiotics, jet travel, the Internet and GPS, what is good for our warriors is even better for our civilians.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Emily Briley is also a senior energy and security analyst at the Civil Society Institute. She will complete her masters of Liberal Arts in Environment Management and sustainability at Harvard University in December 2011.