The Way DOD Looks at Green Power
Energy security for military means the armed forces maintain the ability to provide its installations and soldiers with reliable and uninterrupted access to power and fuel. For installations it means the ability to power the most critical operations, even if the civilian power grid or electricity supply is completely down.
Renewable energy resources are claimed to be a strategic imperative for the US military. Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates have mentioned on several occasions that failure to find new, sustainable energy sources will soon pose a threat to US national security. Poisoned with this claim the US military has been trying to become “green” over the past 5 years or so by incorporating alternative power sources in military installations and alternative ways of powering vehicles.
It is quite understandable that secure and uninterrupted access to energy is an operational imperative that affects a wide range of military capabilities, including maneuverability, sustainability, communications, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The challenge is how to retain access to energy and continue to operate even when energy supplies are disrupted, cut off, or just plain difficult to secure both domestically and overseas.
Navy Secretary Mabus argues that the US military is not going green “just for green’s sake. Energy reform and the new energy future aren’t about politics and slogans. It’s about protecting the lives of our troops. It’s about making our military better and more capable fighters. It’s about making our country more secure and more independent. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we have to change”.
The DOD wishes that when electricity goes out for whatever reason (be it natural disaster, cyber-attack, accident, physical attack or failure of aging and fragile commercial power grid), alternative and renewable energy resources should help making sure that mission critical activities are supported and that the bases continue their operation. Besides, Secretary Gates set a goal of producing or procuring 25% of the DOD’s electric energy needs from renewable energy sources by 2025.
Currently petroleum powered backup generators are used to power up the critical components of military installations when the power goes out. But due mainly to anti-oil sentiment that is being developed by the US military and many of the “green solution” providers, the DoD services are looking for the ways to turn the bases into energy self sufficient mini cities.
The Army is now working on developing microgrid technologies that tie generators together into one grid. For instance, the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security, or SPIDERS microgrid concept, which is expected to be up and running by 2013 at Camp Smith in Hawaii, is foreseen to support a peak load of some 10 Megawatts.
Meanwhile, the dilemma for the Pentagon is how to reconcile its environmental stewardship posture with its “not in my back yard” attitude toward any programs that come too close to its property. In July 2010 Tooele Army Depot celebrated the project completion of the first wind turbine at an Army installation. Meanwhile, military officials still are anxious about the increasing use of wind turbines not because they are against the wind energy but because wind turbines may disrupt radar systems.
The question is: Can alternative and renewable energy resources make US military bases more secure? Is it the cheapest, safest and most efficient way to do it?
The microgrid technology can only allow the military bases to island themselves from the commercial grid for short period of time or have ability to operate in an island mode during emergency for an extended period of time. It sounds attractive. But it is a grave error to consider bases or installations independent from each other. Do the military bases operate in island mode? Don’t they have to cooperate with their command centers? Will all bases and command centers be able to work in an island mode?
Let be realistic, renewable energy sources are important but they cannot always be relied upon during times of emergency and external threat to serve mission critical needs.
Thanks to all politics and propaganda, the military bases have become a testing ground for many green gadgets. I agree with General Norton Schwartz that any renewable energy project must both cost less and be more efficient than current systems. So, they should be able to provide uninterrupted electricity. Can solar and wind do that?
Making use of alternative and renewable energy sources to generate electricity is important. So is the hybrid power and small nuclear power reactors. Green electricity alone is not a viable and sustainable option. The DOD looks for ways completely relying on solar power for some bases. Did the DOD care about the safety and security of solar panels?
DOD also makes the mistake of mixing apples with oranges. Yes they both are fruits but they are not the same. Similarly, going green in the installations abroad and the US are not the same. We read a lot about how painful is logistic tail of fuel burned to generate electricity in forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. How many times we heard about the unreliability of commercial grid and power stations in those places. Why the US has not constructed power plants at least in name of nation building there instead of spending billions of dollars for trying to find quick fixes with unproven green gadgets?
For the installations in the US the first priority should have been consuming less. Like almost all Americans the US military also consider cheap and plentiful energy a birthright. This has to change. If you consume less you may not need more of the expensive “green” energy.
Secretary Mabus one said “We’ve got to change the way we do business.” Not only, the DOD has got to change the way it looks at “green” power.