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Clean Energy & the Department of Defense (in a Biden-Harris Administration)

Adam Siegel's picture
Partner , GESN/ITA

Adam Siegel is an entrepreneurial analyst working at the intersection of energy, climate, national security, and business affairs. He has worked with/for government agencies, think tanks...

  • Member since 2013
  • 121 items added with 33,287 views
  • Sep 30, 2020

The Department of Defense (DOD) is the largest single user of energy in the world and, directly, represents about one percent of total U.S. energy demand. Indirectly, considering the full DOD impact (workforce(s), contractors, use of commercial transportation, ...), the DOD true energy demand could be well above five percent of total U.S. energy usage and thus ballpark one percent of global energy usage (as US is about 17% of total global demand).  While well below aggregated demand from transportation, buildings, and agriculture, this is an impressive figure. To paraphrase Sutton's law, we need to focus on DOD because that's where the energy is.For far too long, for most in the Department, energy was simply a given -- something that the logistics personnel would get to the forces and something the financiers would pay for.  While a cadre of analysts, including the Defense Science Board (DSB), sought to get DOD leadership (uniformed and civilian) to focus on "fully burdened cost of fuel" (FBCF) (what the true costs and implications of energy use are), this remained a back-burner issue until it became clear that a high share of casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted from forward force fuel demands and the significant share of logistics (e.g., convoys) required to deliver fuel to forward operating forces and bases.  This also occurred during significant oscillation of and high peaking of oil prices along with increasing (and, in near term, erroneous) concerns about nearing peak oil supply. 

Thus, by the end of the Bush Administration, there were serious efforts underway to better understand energy implications within DOD and to reduce the Department's reliance on fossil fuels (from domestic installations to forward operating forces).  Those efforts continued into and accelerated under President Obama.

From Marine Corps outposts using solar panels to reduce diesel demand (and thus refueling requirements) by about 50 percent to hybrid-electric ships cutting fuel demand by about 15 percent to installing LED lights thoughout installations to solar panels proliferating on military facilities, the DOD energy picture has seen real change over the past 20 years. 

These measures, through life-cycle, almost certainly are saving the Department (and taxpayers) money as taking Energy Smart measures are typically (near universally) also fiscally smart measures. Far more importantly, these measures are improving capabilities while reducing risks.  Let's take that hybrid-electric ship: greater fuel efficiency translates to longer range (e.g. more capability) and reduced requirements for refueling at sea (and thus less vulnerability).  With those real benefits, who cares whether it saves a penny or reduces pollution? An energy efficient domestic base with renewable energy sources within the wire might save the taxpayer money while reducing pollution but, in terms of the DOD mission, is far more resilient in the face of (either natural or manmade) threats to grid electricity.

While much has happened over the past twenty years, there are still significant opportunities to improve DOD capabilities, boost resiliency, and reduce financial burdens through Energy Smart practices, policies, and procurement.  

On 6 October, Clean Energy for Biden will host a virtual event focused on these opportunities. A panel that includes legislative, policy, and operational experience will explore Clean Energy & the Department of Defense in a Biden-Harris Administration. Speakers will include

  • Representative Adam Smith (D-WA-9) House Armed Services Committee Chair
  • The Honorable Dorothy Robyn, Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment
  • The Honorable Sharon Burke, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy
  • Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (retired), former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations & Environment

This virtual discussion will focus on why clean energy matters for the Department of Defense (and the military services) and explore potential DOD clean-energy agendas and opportunities in a Biden-Harris Administration.



Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 30, 2020

Thanks for sharing, Adam-- I definitely sign off on the Sutton's Law approach of tackling energy issues where they are. Luckily your article reminds me of this other one posted the other day that highlighted how the military was and is taking climate change and clean energy seriously, regardless of the rhetoric coming from the Commander in Chief. Would you say that that's an expected dichotomy? Or is this a unique area in which the military is taking an approach that might not line up with the priorities of the administration? 

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Sep 30, 2020

At a high level: A shift, during the Trump Administration, is move to discuss "resiliency" with reduced/minimized discussion/focus on "clean energy", "renewable energy", and/or climate change.  The attention to climate/clean energy (despite some good appointees w/in DOD) is lessened from what it was under Obama and certainly lesser focus than if Obama second Administration trends had continued. (Look into lowered bureaucratic position and reduced funding for Operational Energy w/in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.) 

From the cited NBC discussion of DOD climate mitigation/adaptation efforts

the Defense Department has discretely continued studying expected effects of climate change based on projections by climate experts — and the conclusions of those studies are nothing short of terrifying.

For understanding what is going on, an accurate an key word is "discretely" ... Some (thoughtful, competent, etc ...) DOD elements (uniformed and civilian) do understand that climate risks are serious for DOD and that DOD will suffer without adaptation/resiliency investments.

To be clear, this is overlapped with but the not the same as "clean energy and DOD".  For example, Sea Level Rise (SLR) threatens to make facilities inoperable through, for example, making sewage systems dysfunctional.  While we can talk solar & lower-energy demands for sewage, having piping systems higher above sea level as an adaption against climate change isn't really a clean energy issue.  And, while there might be some pollution (GHG/climate) benefits from reducing diesel use at a forward operating base, the true DOD benefit streams have nothing to do with climate but about improved capabilities/resiliency and reduced casualties/risks/costs.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 30, 2020

Thanks for the thorough and informative response, Adam!

Adam Siegel's picture
Thank Adam for the Post!
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