21 Jun 2011

Energy: now a national security priority for ALL the armed forces

Written by Jim Pierobon

For the first time, “energy” is a distinct military program or capability at the Pentagon — on par with troops, weapons and cyber skill sets. And with its just unveiled “Operational Energy Strategy” there is hope this ambitious blueprint could trigger significant new efficiency innovations in vehicles and deployment of onsite renewable sources of electricity.

How much could this new strategy ignite and accelerate an energy revolution is a major topic among private sector financiers eyeing the Pentagon as THE market that trumps all other markets for cleaner, less-expensive and less risky sources of energy.

Here in the middle of 2011, as strategies and tactics to acquire and move energy supplies are being incorporated into war games, the Pentagon’s new focus harbors a lot of potential. It runs out of its own office using a three-point plan spelled out in an 11-point memo, according to  the National Journal.   The specifics though are hard to come by as the military and government media are finding.

Behind Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the Navy and Marine Corps already are several steps ahead of their peers in the other military branches. Two sterling examples:  portable solar power panel arrays to keep troops in remote locations longer and a hybrid-engine powered amphibious assault ship.

If nothing else, the Operational Energy Strategy is doing something that all energy consumers should be doing: account for more that just purchase price of fuels and electricity.

A former Marine Corps commandant recently confided with the National Journal that if all expenses are taken into account, the Marines in 2009 paid $400 for every gallon of gasoline. At today’s prices, that fully-loaded cost likely exceeds $525 a gallon.

While the roles the new strategy could play may be unrealistically aspirational, the Pentagon has spawned a handful of notable technologies. The Internet evolved out of work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1969. GPS systems now common in smart phones and new vehicles were first developed to help troops navigate enemy territory.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle the transfer of new technologies depends on is the willingness of Congress to fund enough product development so that defense-oriented corporations and venture capitalists see a green light at the end of the tunnel.

Part of this conundrum could be addressed by extending the 5 to 10-year limit on power purchase contracts to 15 to 20 years.  With an assured revenue stream over longer terms, project developers can commit to prices that begin to compete with conventional energy sources.

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