The Upside of War

It’s prompting the Pentagon to become less fossil fuel dependent and will likely hasten the scale up of renewable energy technologies. From Elisabeth Rosenthal’s must-read front page story in today’s NYT:

Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies “” which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years “” as providing a potential answer. These new types of renewable energy now account for only a small percentage of the power used by the armed forces, but military leaders plan to rapidly expand their use over the next decade.

Why is this the best news climate change advocates have heard in an otherwise very bad week? Back to Rosenthal:

While setting national energy policy requires Congressional debates, military leaders can simply order the adoption of renewable energy. And the military has the buying power to create products and markets. That, in turn, may make renewable energy more practical and affordable for everyday uses, experts say.

Via John Fleck, we are reminded that Daniel Sarewitz made this argument last April in Nature:

National security, climate change and energy economics are convergent rationales that provide the DOD with a potentially huge institutional advantage over other energy innovators. A litre of petrol transported along highly vulnerable supply lines to Afghanistan costs an average of about $100. Enhancing the energy independence of forward-base operations in combat zones “” to save lives and money “” is thus a powerful short-term incentive for energy-technology innovation in everything from building insulation to fuel efficiency for jeeps, tanks and jets, to renewable power generation and storage. The price at which new technologies make economic and strategic sense is enormously higher than what the energy market “” or any plausible cap-and-trade or energy tax scheme “” would allow.

Maybe this classic song got it wrong, after all.

3 Responses to “The Upside of War”

  1. Jarmo says:

    A lot of US equipment was designed with fuel consumption as the least important criterium. Take M1A1 Abrams tank and its fuel guzzling turbine. Impressive cross-country consumption of 60 gallons per hour, average 300 gallons every 8 hours.

    Equivalent diesel-engined tanks (Leopard 2) consume almost 50% less fuel.

  2. Roddy Campbell says:

    Am I missing something – how do biofuels help the DoD?  The article talks about planes and ships using biofuels as a segue from energy security, ie convoys being attacked in the Khyber Pass.  How does the origin of a fuel, fossil or soy, help?  The article is fine on solar panels, fine on the price meaning that solar, for example, is competitive technology, but otherwise is kinda crackpot.  Why do the US Navy care about algae?

  3. John Fleck says:

    Roddy –
    Having written about this a bit myself…
    The folks I’ve interviewed working this issue argue that algae-based jet fuel, for example, could provide a strategically stable supply in a conflict in which our access to foreign oil was cut off. It’s separate from the Khyber Pass-type issues Rosenthal is pointing out.

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