Efficiency beyond pizza money: The military’s gigantic bite

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By Elisa Wood

April 22, 2010

Is efficiency worth the bother if you save only $5-$10 per month on your energy bill? Many homeowners think not. One dad told us his family would rather save money by just skipping a pizza order once a month. That sentiment is not unusual.

But it is hard to negate the economic value of efficiency if you spend $20 billion per year on energy, as does the US military, our government’s largest energy user, responsible for nearly 80 percent of the government’s total energy consumption.

“Re-energizing America’s Defense,” a recent report by The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, http://www.pewclimatesecurity.org/reenergizing-americas-defense/ looks at how profoundly our energy mix affects the military.

The military has great motivation to make our energy supply more efficient and less oil-dependent. For every $10 per barrel increase in oil prices, the Defense department’s energy bill increases more than $1.3 billion. That is a lot of pizza.

But it’s not just cash that motivates the military. Much of our military’s work goes into defending energy supplies – such as oil tankers moving through pirate waters along the Somali coast or fuel conveys making their way to troops in the Middle East.

So for the military energy efficiency brings not just savings of coin but of blood. The less energy we use, the less they must fight to protect. Thus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has identified energy as one of the department’s top 25 “transformational priorities.”

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that the military would pursue clean energy innovation and aggressive efficiency goals, several of which the Pew report highlights. Here is a sampling.

  • The Army will transition to 4,000 electric vehicles during the next three years, giving it one of the world’s largest electric fleets.
  • The Navy plans to reduce its oil use in its commercial fleet 50 percent by 2015. In October it commissioned the first amphibious assault ship to use a hybrid gas turbine/electric drive machinery plant.  The Navy also is testing algae and camelina-based biofuels for use in jet aircraft fuel and as shipboard diesel fuel.
  • In Iraq, the Marine Corps has joined the Army to test energy-efficiency foams that reduce energy consumption 50 to 75 percent in temporary structures
  • The Air Force leads all federal entities in clean-power purchasing, with 37 bases meeting some portion of their electrical needs with renewable sources. Nellis Air Force Base has one of the largest solar arrays in North America, providing more than 25 percent of base energy

Our energy mix affects the military, and the military is determined to affect our energy mix.

“DoD has historically been a national leader in technological innovation, creating such transformational tools as the Internet and the Global Positioning System. Building on this history, DoD can be a leader in creating alternative fuels, advanced energy storage and more efficient vehicles on land, in the air and at sea,” says the Pew report.

Given that the military is often an incubator for new technology, homeowners will likely reap the fruits of these efforts. That $5 to $10 we can save through energy efficiency may double or triple under new innovation. And suddenly it won’t be so easy for us to ignore the benefit.

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.