Military Going Green... But Chugging Oil

The Wall Street Journal takes a tour today of the Pentagon's clean energy plans. It's a fair and balanced piece -- in the old, pre-Murdoch sense of the term. And it throws some needed cold water on a (slightly over-) enthusiastic essay I wrote for the current issue of Good magazine. In it, I get all rosy-glasses, counting off the military's alt-power projects:10-1.jpg

In September 2005, the federal government decreed that 7.5 percent of its power should come from renewable sources by 2013. The Pentagon is already there [and is headed towards 25 percent renewables by 2025]... In sunny San Diego, California, Naval Base Coronado's solar power is saving the annual equivalent of 6,000 barrels of oil. Wind turbines help Warren Air Force Base in gusty Wyoming, keeping 4,866 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from escaping into the atmosphere per year. Then there are the nine military bases that are powered geothermally, by the heat of the earth. California's Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake kicks off 270 megawatts of electricity, keeping lights turned on as far away as Los Angeles.
True, true. But while clean power is nice, the Journal notes, it's small potatoes compared to the oil, gas, and jet fuel the Defense Department guzles:
In the past 20 years, [the military] has cut energy use at facilities 28%. Still, oil accounts for roughly 75% of total energy use. The military's focus has been on saving power -- also a laudable goal, critics say, but not an answer to dependence on oil...The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased military fuel use by as much as 56,000 barrels a day. In addition, the military's improved ability to deploy troops to battlefields comes at the cost of increased fuel use: today, more than half of the fuel consumed in combat theaters is used not by front-line soldiers but by supply convoy... The military uses fuel at twice the rate it did in the first Persian Gulf War and four times the rate it did in the Second World War.
Bottom line: It ain't easy, getting to green.UPDATE 5:10 PM: "The Air Force last month successfully demonstrated how hydrogen fuel cells could one day be used for generating power at forward operating bases and remote locations to help reduce the dependence of U.S. forces on local energy sources and foreign oil," Inside Defense reports.
During the Dec. 14 test, officials from the services Advanced Power Technology Office studied how well a newly developed hydrogen fuel cell called the Multipurpose Electric Power System could provide electricity to halogen lights, comparing the results to the performance of a diesel generator now used in theater...The demonstration was the latest in a series of tests under the offices tent city initiative, which examines new alternative energy technologies that may one day help U.S. forces in theater power equipment more efficiently.
UPDATE 01/10/07 11:38 AM: Last week, Defense News had an even deeper look at the military's alt-fuel and alt-power conundrum.
With fuel prices escalating, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is urging the Navy to go all-nuclear.For now, only submarines and aircraft carriers are propelled by nuclear power. Thats about 80 of the Navys 286 ships. But Bartlett, who chaired the House Armed Services projection forces subcommittee, says its time for the nuclear Navy to grow. The line has already been crossed for big-deck amphibious ships, Bartlett said.When oil hit $60 a barrel, it became more expensive to operate amphibs on oil than it would be on nuclear power, he said.And we will shortly cross the line for cruisers, Bartlett said.The Navy calculates that nuclear power becomes economical for cruisers after oil costs $80 a barrel, and for destroyers when oil costs about $205 a barrel.But...cost is a major roadblock for nuclear-powered ships... Nuclear propulsion systems would add several hundred million dollars to each ship. The timing is not good. Congress is already distressed about escalating shipbuilding costs. Once they see the numbers, it will be very hard to convince them to go all-nuclear, he said...[In the meantime,] the Navy also taking [smaller] steps to reduce energy consumption. It has installed bulbous bows and stern flaps on some of its ships. Each of these increases fuel efficiency by a few percentage points, according to John Young, the Pentagons director of research and engineering.The Navy also is considering applying coatings to ship propellers to potentially get 4 or 5 percent savings in fuel efficiency and possibly some reductions in maintenance, Young told the House Armed Services Committee in September. It looks like it pays for itself in no more than about a year.
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