The US military is making a major push to deploy renewable energy on the battlefield because our soldiers are being killed protecting convoys of gasoline trucks. According to a front page story in The New York Times, the Secretary of the Navy "wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020."
There are many reasons for this dramatic push towards renewable energy on the battlefield:
1. Oil Kills
A US Army study found that one soldier or civilian is killed for every 24 fuel convoys that are sent out to provide fuel to troops on the battlefield. The Times reports that six Marines were wounded guarding oil convoys in just the past three months.
2. Oil Keeps Our Troops from Fighting the Enemy
The Navy Secretary is quoted in the Times as saying that guarding fuel in Afghanistan "is keeping our troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people."
3. Oil is Outrageously Expensive
Do you think the military pays $2 or $3 per gallon for gasoline? Actually they get it for a wholesale price of about $1 per gallon, but transporting it to the battlefield adds on huge costs. For some remote locations, the cost of supplying fuel reaches $400 per gallon.
4. Oil Telegraphs Our Strategy to the Enemy
Want to know where our troops are low on fuel or getting ready to fight? Just follow the convoys of oil tankers. They will lead the enemy directly to our troops, inform the enemy of the size of our forces (more oil for larger contingents or more equipment), and provide hints of what might happen next. On the other hand, troops that do not need to re-fuel have tactical advantages not only on land but on sea as well. The Navy Secretary told the Times that "[e]very time you cut a ship away from the need to visit an oiler -- a fuel supply ship -- you create an advantage."
5. Oil Causes Wars
Although not directly quoting the Secretary of the Navy, the Times reports that he and others said that "greater reliance on renewable energy improved national security, because fossil fuels often came from unstable regions and scarce supplies were a potential source of international conflict." Duh! You mean we fight wars over oil? When did someone realize that?
We have known all this for, well, forever. So why are we only now making the push for renewable energy on the battlefield? The Times suggests that recent advances in technology make renewable energy more viable. This tells only a very small part of the story. Most of the renewable energy technologies being used by the military are not based on dramatic technological breakthroughs. If the military had been serious in the past, it could have financed and tested new technologies better than almost anyone else. The Navy Secretary admitted as much: "If the Navy comes knocking, they will build it. The price will come down and the infrastructure will be created."
So why is the military "knocking" on the renewable energy door now? Simple. The war is not ending, and our the competitive advantages on the battlefield from high-tech weapons and communications are far more dependent on energy than ever before. Oil supply convoys have become a very dangerous Achilles heel.
Civilians should take note. Our civilian economy is also far more dependent on energy than ever before. In the future, other countries will compete against us for jobs and growth not on the basis of lower wages, but on the basis of lower energy costs. How competitive will our economy be when we are still paying for oil, coal, and other non-renewable fuels, while other countries are getting 50% or more of their power from sources with almost no ongoing fuel costs such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and nuclear?
A great nation will not wait until we are in a crisis and stalemated on the economic battlefield. If we want to retain our status as a great nation, we must start building sustainable energy infrastructure right now. Let's build a competitive advantage into our economy with energy sources that have no fuel costs. Let's build a society that can say "No" to despotic oil regimes, "Keep your oil because we're not buying it." Let's build a society with a foreign policy focused on promoting our economic interests and our interests in democracy and human rights, instead of one that goes to war to protect access to oil fields.
If the military can do it on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly we can do it from the comfort of home. Let's start right now.