The military recognizes that its reliance on the commercial electric grid to supply power to its bases in the U.S. and abroad is a key vulnerability. The fact that military bases are at the end of the distribution grid presents a number of problems as disruptions in the grid can negatively impact the base and compromise the mission. In Fiscal Year 2015, the military experienced 127 grid outages lasting eight hours or more. These outages not only impact critical facilities, such as hospitals, but also impair war fighting operations when power outages compromise computer and communication systems. Moreover, military facilities are frequently used to stage relief efforts following a natural disaster. Power outages not only impact the military’s ability to respond and provide needed assistance, but also threaten on-base support systems needed by soldiers and their families.
To meet these challenges, the military is increasingly turning to renewable energy to generate electricity on or near its bases. When combined with microgrids and other back-up power systems, renewable energy allows for a base to remain operational with uninterrupted power, should the commercial grid suffer an outage. These programs have been very successful. The Army has 300 megawatts (MW) operating with another 150 MW scheduled to come on-line next year. Going forward, it expects to add 100 to 150 MW of renewable power each year and has identified four (4) gigawatts (GW) of potential generation. The Navy is already procuring more than one (1) GW of renewable electricity to power its naval bases and the Navy’s Great Green Fleet has demonstrated the feasibility of biofuels to power its aircraft and ships. The Air Force, which is now more reliant on electrons than jet fuel for its operations, is rapidly expanding its use of renewable energy with over 250 MW deployed or under development.
Despite the progress and notable successes, there are still a number of misconceptions regarding the military’s use of renewable energy. For starters, some believe that the military is only procuring renewable energy to comply with goals set by the Obama Administration. To the contrary, the DoD found that renewable energy is critical to achieving its mission by providing resiliency, reducing maintenance and fuel costs, reducing the need for fuel supply missions, and allowing its fighters to go farther, stay longer, and bring the fight to the enemy. There is also a misconception that constructing renewable energy projects near a base (specifically wind farms) negatively impacts the operation of the base and puts it at risk of closure. In actuality, the military routinely works with developers to ensure that its operations are not negatively impacted and bases with a nearby source of renewable energy are less likely to close down, compared to ones without.
Outgoing military leaders expect the DoD to continue deploying renewable energy. General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense nominee, has been credited with spurring the military’s use of renewable energy when he requested DoD to be unleashed from the tether of fuel after seeing his troops frequently stop to wait for fuel supplies. Now that the military has successfully demonstrated how renewable energy can help troops in the field and add resiliency to its bases around the world, renewable energy will continue to grow in importance to America’s national defense.