The US Military: Winning the renewable war
Resilient, sustainable and adequate sources of energy are key elements of the energy strategy of the US armed forces. In recent years, that kind of fuel includes renewable energy. While environmental issues may not necessarily be the main driving forces for the US Department of Defense (DoD) when it comes to energy, the US military, the country’s major institutional energy consumer, acknowledges that renewable energy is often safer than fossil fuels in meeting its needs.
The US military consumes over 100mn barrels of oil per year, which leaves troops exposed to enemy attacks. Besides, vulnerability of oil prices and a potential rise in global oil demand raises concerns within the DoD regarding its ability to access reliable fuel sources during its critical missions.
Many military leaders admit that climate change poses national and international security threats, contributing to more social, political and economic instability of vulnerable countries and necessitating troop deployments. The military sees climate change as an accelerant of global conflicts. In practical terms, DoD realises that an over-reliance on fossil fuels could undermine its resilience during a power grid failure or reduce its fighting capability if energy supplies are compromised at the time of war.
“The military recognises the importance of renewable energy in achieving their missions in more effective ways,” says Galen Nelson, Director of Innovation at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, who collaborates with military leaders in the Bay State on clean energy projects. “Military leaders are committed to incorporating clean energy into their assets, not least because the cost of renewable energy has come down dramatically in recent years.” While the military has no plans to fully do away with fossil fuels, support for renewable energy has risen in all branches of the US Armed Forces.
The Pentagon relies on renewables both for military installations at home and in combat zones. In compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, military installations and facilities in the US are required to be energy efficient and produce or buy 25% of their total facility energy use from renewable sources by 2025. Regardless of the legislative requirements, the military energy policy is driven by cost reduction, energy efficiency and resilience; renewable energy has been an integral part of it.
Depending on geographical locations across the US, military installations get electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, waste-to-energy landfill gas and biomass. A priority for forward-operating bases abroad and combat zones is to mitigate an operational energy burden, while maintaining or improving mission effectiveness and minimising harm on troops.
DoD emphasises diversification of operational energy supplies in combat zones to reduce a risk of attacks on troops at fuel resupply lines. Renewable technologies, such as solar devices for servicemen, waste-to-energy, solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles and other ways of using locally-sourced energy, are key to fuel diversification goals. “The Pentagon has a number of renewable energy contracts in the procurement pipeline that locks the military into a low-priced energy from renewable sources and provides strategic diversity across the energy supply chain,” said James Goudreau, retired US Navy Captain and former acting deputy assistant secretary of Navy for Energy.
“Not many Americans understand the value of renewable energy,” says Goudreau, who advocated for a deeper penetration of renewable energy sources as assets for the military during his service in the Pentagon. “The practical application and efficiency of renewable energy in the combat zone and in disaster relief efforts are paramount. For instance, at the individual level, a marine carries a 120-pound pack with water and batteries. By using a small rollup solar panel, he can drop 25 pounds from the pack and carry more ammunition instead, or just have the ability to move lighter and faster. Similarly, in disaster relief situations, a marine can carry more emergency supplies.”
In 2009, marines in Afghanistan started using solar panels to power batteries for communication devices, GPS and night-vision goggles in their fights against the Taliban. Solar panels also helped marines to turn off generators, thereby, eluding enemy detection. Mobile solar-powered convoys are able to move stealthily through enemy zones.
The US Armed Forces set out ambitious goals to increase total energy consumption from renewable sources: Army – 25% by 2025; Navy – 50% by 2020; and Air Force – 25% of total electricity use from alternative energy by 2025. As military renewable power projects tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, which has benefited green energy contractors, primarily, utilities and solar companies, the military’s oil consumption fell by 20% from 2007 to 2015.
“While reliance on a specific renewable technology is not the main driver for the Air Force, and it is more a matter what can be used to achieve energy resilience and efficiency, solar has been the dominant source of clean energy for us at the base,” says Air Force Maj. Shawn Doyle with the Otis Air National Guard Base in Joint Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts. With the ultimate goal of making base energy infrastructure self-sufficient by using microgrids and relying less on public utilities, Maj. Doyle says that the Department of Defense is exploring the use of deployable microgrids and energy storage in the military, which are currently at a testing phase.
There is a common agreement among former and current military servicemen interviewed for this article that renewable energy is important to meeting two main recent energy goals of the US armed forces – resilience and efficiency. In response to the question – what energy resilience means to the military – retired Army Colonel and former Chief of US Army Operational Energy Office Paul Roege explains: “Resilience is the ability to survive and thrive under a changing situation that can happen quickly or over a long-term, and be able to recover quickly from an attack, whether it is cyber or physical, or due to changing global climate. And renewable energy is an important piece of the puzzle for military’s energy resilience because it can improve reliability.” It seems that the energy goals in the military mirror the civilian realities. Goudreau explains: “Not only military is focused on resilience, but more US states and cities are focused on it because of the pain they face under the changing global climate and impacts of extreme weather.”
While President Donald Trump is poised to undo green energy policies and regulations of President Obama, one government institution that seems to be determined to continue pursuing renewables is the US military.
It has an ally in using green energy and in recognising the threats of climate change to national security – the US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. After a major assault on US troops in Baghdad in 2003, Secretary Mattis has pushed for the military to move away from oil to green technologies in order to help troops reduce the threat of attacks on fuel supplies. Renewable energy saves lives and that matters to military leaders.
For the foreseeable future, the US armed forces are locked into petroleum-based products for decades to come, since most of the military equipment runs on fossil fuels. “But for operational efficiency and practical use, the military will continue investing in renewable energy under President Trump,” says Goudreau. He believes any increase in renewable energy use in the military will be gradual.
Roege concludes: “Military is not going to change its stance on renewable energy because it has already made the justification for and the connection between, green energy and resilience. Resilience resonates with the new [Trump] administration, so it will not change the military’s energy policy. The military will not only continue to increase its use of renewable energy, but will also create value through renewables and strengthen their reliability.”
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere