On Point for the Nation: Army and Renewable Energy

Article excerpt

"It's operationally necessary, it's fiscally prudent, and it's mission essential for us to make sure that we have energy security and can perform our primary mission for the United States."1

Synopsis: This article explores the U.S. Army's efforts to incorporate renewable energy into its mission at home and abroad. It explains to the reader why the Army needs and wants renewable energy as part of its overall strategy to strengthen national security and improve its operational capabilities. The article then introduces the reader to the strategic framework which set the Army's overall goals and shaped the landscape for development and implementation of a number of wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass projects. After an evaluation of many of the projects implemented on Army installations and in the deployed and operational setting, the author identifies some remaining challenges and offers several recommendations for enhancing the Army's capacity to further develop, implement, and expand renewable energy projects.

I. INTRODUCTION

Stop for a moment and imagine what an Army on point for the Nation, working to develop and implement renewable energy policy and initiatives, must look like.

* Photovoltaic solar panels spread across a twelve-acre landfill in Fort Carson, CO, generating enough electricity to power 540 homes.2

* Landfill gas converted into enough energy to supply power to 250 homes at Fort Benning, GA.3

* Soldiers across Afghanistan using solar-powered battery recharge systems to reduce their rucksack loads and to extend their tether from supply bases when embarking on multi-day patrols.4

* Reduction of annual oil use in the war in Afghanistan by thirty-three million gallons because of twenty-two new mini-grid power generation management platforms.5

* On the horizon sits a 13.2 MW solar power project at Fort Bliss, TX, large enough to power 4700 homes.6

* $7 billion on tap for expanding renewables at Army installations across the Nation, with hundreds of renewable energy company applications in the pipeline waiting for reviews and acceptance.7

To some observers this picture is somewhat surprising and, frankly, confusing. To others, it is annoying at best or maddening at worst, to think of our Army wasting time and money on solar panels and daisy-chaining some new-fangled generators together. And for yet others, they simply stand amazed by the awesome agility and ingenuity the Army displays over and over again. But for almost all Americans, they want to know why.

Why is the U.S. Army, the world's premier war-fighting force, focused on renewable energy? In an era of sustained combat never before known by our Nation, why is our Army now taking on the challenge of developing and implementing renewable energy policy and projects? How did we get here and what is the goal? How far have we come? How far do we have to go? And what will it take to get us to energy independence and increased national security?

This author endeavors to answer these questions and others in the pages ahead.

This article, broken into seven parts, will first highlight some of the U.S. Army's recent development and implementation of renewable energy policy, systems, and projects. It will then identify the primary challenges that continue to slow or limit further progress in renewable energy development. Finally, it will offer several recommendations for the way ahead. Part I introduced the reader to the subject matter and outlined the roadmap for the rest of the article. Part II presents a timeline that helps to explain how and why the Army is on its current course of rapidly expanding its development and use of renewable energy. Part III assesses where the Army is today, by presenting a number of success stories and case studies. Part IV summarizes the Army's plan for the way ahead. Part V addresses some of the key challenges which currently slow or limit renewable energy growth. …