Could the Navy and Marines help lead the green energy revolution?

As NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, energy efficient military installations can save lives, bringing new meaning to the term “energy security”.

Here at home, increased building performance and energy efficiency can reap lots of benefits: reduced heating bills, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and increase comfort and safety.  But when we think about home energy retrofits and Passive Houses, one benefit often gets less attention: security, both on a global and local scale.  This connection between green energy and security happens in several ways:

  • Foreign Oil: As buildings become more efficient and demand less energy, US reliance on foreign oil diminishes.
  • Climate Change as Destabilizer: The more we can slow global warming, the more secure we’ll be due to fewer destabilizing droughts/famines, natural disasters, and displacement from sea level rises.
  • Spiking Fuel Prices: The less each of us depends on energy inputs to heat and cool our homes, the easier we can weather price spikes as fossil fuel supply becomes less certain.
  • Independence from Grid: And for the true survivalists among us, if you build a Passive House and tack on a couple of solar panels to bring it to net-zero energy use, you can ostensibly operate independent of the grid, relatively unworried by possible future brownouts or blackouts.

What put me on this grim theme?  A pretty optimistic column, actually, by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman entitled “The U.S.S. Prius”.

Friedman writes that while Congress dithers on green energy and energy efficient building, the US Navy and Marines may end up leading the charge for a green revolution.  Why?  Because green energy can save lives.  Friedman cites a 2007 study that found that every 24 fuel convoys run in Afghanistan results in one US casualty.  Less demand for fuel in the field means fewer US servicemen and women hurt or killed transporting that fuel.

“…if the U.S. Navy and Marines could replace [power diesel] generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with bio-fuels, then it could out-green the Taliban — the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads — and out-green all the petro-dictators now telling the world what to do. Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives.”

Friedman quotes the Secretary of the Navy as saying that the cost of guarding and delivering fuel in Afghanistan can reach $400 per gallon.  The military recognizes that big economic and human costs can be avoided through green energy measures.  That’s why the Marines are operating a “green” base in Helmland Province to push the envelope on energy efficiency measures and solar power in an effort to operate independent of fuel shipments.  And the Secretary of the Navy’s 2020 goal is to use 50% alternative energy for its entire fighting fleet.  “If the Navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards,” Friedman concludes, “it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.”


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