Mean, green, American fighting machines
When the US Marine Corp establish themselves a new home in Darwin, they will bring some seriously green equipment and ideas to our shores. This is because in the three years of his Presidency, Barack Obama has actively led the US Department of Defense to embrace renewable energy and a strategic awareness of climate change.
The officer in charge of greening the marines is Colonel Bob ‘Brutus’ Charette, a career soldier. As Director of E2O, the Expeditionary Energy Office, Colonel Charette has been on the road in 2011 with a fascinating presentation that shows how seriously America’s defense force is fighting its fatal addiction to oil.
The Colonel jokes that when his commander told him to establish the E2O he said that his only qualification is wasting energy, as a jet pilot and commander.
The Marine Corp has been given the task of reducing its energy intensity 30 per cent by 2015 relative to a 2003 baseline. Meanwhile in Canberra’s Parliament House, or Planet Quacko as it is affectionately known, there has been intense debate about a miniscule 5 percent carbon emissions cut by 2020. The USMC also has an objective to increase the percentage of renewable electrical energy consumed to 25 percent by 2025.
The impact of these energy goals is to make the marines faster (“Lighten load” as Charette puts it), more frugal (“reduce footprint”) and thus more lethal (“more tooth less tail”).
In some deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel demands account for more than 60 per cent of convoys. Minimising these trips can save fuel, energy, carbon emissions and lives. Renewable energy substitutes for conventional batteries can reduce the cost of remote operations.
Colonel Charette provides a graphic case study comparing the batteries used in a three-day company patrol in 2001 to 2011. In 2001, 54 batteries, worth $4,000 provided 160 Watts of electricity. In 2001, 754 batteries were needed, providing 1255 Watts, for a cost of $117,000—a price increase of more than 2400 per cent. .
Over the past year the E2O has run a systems analysis of energy use, started cultural change programs, investigated potential useful technologies and tested equipment at bases in America. The program is designated EXFOB or Experimental Forward Operating Base. One test involved sending a company out on a three-week patrol without any battery resupply. Two patrols were reliant on renewable energy only.
US defense policy follows a rolling 4 year planning cycle, called the Quadrennial Defence Review. The latest review (2010-2014) has integrated climate change into the strategic landscape at all levels, as a ‘threat multiplier’. The idea is that global warming increases the adversity of all scenarios, increasing uncertainty and hence, risk.
The other half of the equation is security of energy supply. The DOD is the largest user of energy in the United States. It makes up 80 per cent of the US Government’s total energy consumption. To maintain its ability to project power in an age of declining oil supplies and carbon constraints the DOD has embarked on a service-wide effort to measure and reduce its carbon and energy bootprint.
Systems that pass the muster in training environments graduate to field testing at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. One of these battle-approved systems is SPACES—a solar-powered battery charging kit that is used by Marine forces rotated through Afghanistan.
Marines who took part in the EXFOB exercises gave glowing reviews of SPACES and other technologies such as PowerShades, fabric field shelters embedded with solar PV cells. PowerShades are light, portable structures that provide shade for soldiers during the day, while generating upto 2 kW of energy for ventiliation fans, lights, computers, communications and battery recharging.
Sergeant Gregory Wenzel took part in the Mojave Viper EXFOB exercise that tested the PowerShades said, “As far as disadvantages, I really haven’t seen any… You don’t need any fuel, it’s much quieter than a generator but can still power any electrical asset you need.”
The US military is proving what clean energy advocates have been saying for years: renewables are for winners, fossil fuels are for fools. Australia’s nuclear fan club and fossil fuel lobbyists frequently complain that solar is no good when the sun goes down. Tell that to the marines.
If only Australia’s press were less distracted by Canberra, they might start reporting on the real advantages of renewables.
The US military’s cleantech push has spillover benefits for society. On the technological level, US military R&D, field-testing and procurement policies are already driving diverse streams of cleantech innovation. On the political level, the climate security agenda shifts the ‘frame’ in which we understand renewable energy to one of self sufficiency and technological progress.
When the case for renewables is made on the grounds of national security, the arguments of climate denialists and delay merchants are bombed back to the Stone Age. Labor Member for Wakefield Nick Champion has put the climate and security challenge in simple terms:
Climate change sceptics have a profoundly irresponsible approach to our national security because their ideology does not allow them to acknowledge the potential threats we may face, and their denial of the evidence could leave our nation unprepared for a hostile and uncertain future. Make no mistake; if you’re a self-confessed climate sceptic then you’re as soft as butter on Australia’s defence.
In Australia’s simplistic media-political landscape, ‘green’ is the ultimate soft issue and war is the ultimate hard issue. But as the US Marine Corps demonstrates, energy conservation and renewable energy are now a critical national security concerns.
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