Cleantech savior: U.S. military to spend $10B annually by 2030

Energy is the lifeblood of the U.S. military and its biggest national security risk. So it's pouring money into alternative sources. By 2030, annual spending is expected to reach $10 billion, according to a recent report.

Energy is the lifeblood of the U.S. military and its biggest security risk. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the world, surpassing consumption totals of more than 100 nations. But its reliance on traditional energy sources forces it to use foreign oil and gas, which costs money and raises all kind of strategic and logistical questions.

So it makes sense that finding alternative energy sources as well as improving efficiency would be a top priority for the department. And that's good news for the cleantech industry. Very good news.

Annual spending on renewable energy by the DOD will reach $10 billion by 2030, according to a report released Thursday from Pike Research. A significant portion of this will be spent on facilities operations including permanent bases. But the majority will go toward mobility applications including portable soldier power as well as land, air and sea vehicles.

Pike Research estimates the DOD spends about $20 billion a year on energy -- 75 percent for fuel and 25 percent to power facilities and infrastructure. Key sectors of investment over the next two decades will be solar power for permanent bases and temporary facilities; fuel cells for individual soldier power; microgrids for military facilities; and biofuels for military vehicles.

The cleantech research firm forecast the DOD will spend $3 billion on renewable energy by 2015, $5 billion by 2025 and $10 billion by 2030. The forecast is based on the assumption that the DOD targets in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will be achieved, the report said. In comparison, the total annual expenditure by China on renewable energy for military applications is expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2030.

Renewable energy projects currently underway:

  • $2 billion 500 megawatt solar power installation on military reserves at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.
  • The Navy's Great Green Fleet initiative aims to create a biofuels-driven fleet by 2016. The Navy commissioned the USS Makin Island, its first green ship, in October 2009 to be powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system. The Navy expects to save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the life of the vessel. Its biggest challenge is available biofuels.
  • The Air Force, which uses 2.4 billion gallon of fuel a year, has a goal to operate half of its fleet on biofuels by 2016. Honeywell subsidiary UOP is producing up to 190,000 gallon of fuel for the Navy and 400,000 gallons for the Air Force from non-food feedstocks including animal fat, algae and camelina.
  • DARPA is researching on multiple renewable energy fronts including jet fuel derived from algae, nano-batteries, wave energy, olar and wind technology, and fuel cells from microbes.

Photo: Solar array at 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio National Guard, Department of Defense


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