Military search for green energy


Verified Military
Nov 8, 2007
Minneapolis, MN
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- One out of eight U.S. Army casualties in Iraq was the result of protecting fuel convoys.

This statistic, derived from an Army study looking at fuel convoys in Iraq from 2003 to 2007, is a powerful incentive for the military to move away from oil and toward renewable energy, and that's exactly what it's doing.

From experimental solar-powered desert bases for the Marines to Navy robots that run on wave energy, the military is quickly becoming a leading buyer of cutting-edge renewable energy technology.

For the armed services, the benefits extend beyond reducing fuel convoy casualties. A fighting force that isn't restricted by the reach of a tanker truck or weighted down by heavy batteries is more nimble and, as a result, more lethal.

For renewable energy companies, the military is proving to be a vital customer, buying the latest in clean energy gadgets and encouraging private investment. The hope is the armed services can shepherd this technology to the point where it becomes commercially viable, much like it did a generation ago for GPS systems or the Internet.

"Some people might get the impression they're throwing away money because some stuff doesn't work," said Rachel Sheinbein of CMEA Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in renewable energy companies. "But the ones that do work, the differences they make are huge."

A solar desert base: A hundred and fifty miles east of Los Angeles, the Marines are trying to figure out what works for them.

This week is the second year in a row the Marines have constructed an "ExFOB" at the Twentynine Palms base deep in the California desert.

Short for Experimental Forward Operating Base, the Marines are trying to see what devices can turn the most remote of military outposts into self-sufficient encampments.

Being energy self sufficient in places like Iraq or Afghanistan isn't just a tree-hugging point of pride. These bases currently use diesel or other fuels to run generators that power everything from air conditioning in tents, to computers running battlefield management software.

Fuel in Iraq generally arrives at big bases via tanker ships. The military didn't release specific statistics about convoy deaths in Afghanistan. But the logistical challenges there are huge.
Fuel in Afghanistan is delivered via truck convoy from Pakistan to distribution centers. Other truck convoys then redistribute the fuel to smaller bases. All these convoys are big, slow-moving, explosive targets.

In some cases fuel has to be helicoptered in. In addition to risking lives, that's also pricey. The military says it can cost up to $40-a-gallon to get fuel into the most remote and dangerous places.

Last year, the Marines bought solar panels that roll up like beach mats and can be stuffed into backpacks. During tests in Afghanistan, the mats were instrumental in reducing the number of batteries the Marines had to carry to run radios or laptops.

This year the Marines are looking to buy larger, trailer-mounted solar panels that use advanced materials to generate twice the power of conventional silicon-based panels and can power an entire base. They are also testing fuel efficiency devices for their tactical vehicles. Ultimately, they hope to cut their fuel consumption 50% by 2025.

Efforts like this are happening across the armed services, driven both by tactical concerns and mandates from Congress and the president.

The Navy is experimenting with a surfboard-shaped, wave-powered robot from a company called Liquid Robotics that can be used to monitor the high seas at a significantly cheaper price than using a ship.

They Navy is also experimenting with wave and tidal power devices, as well as using advanced biofuel to power its boats. The Air Force has long used biofuels as part of its fuel mix in planes, including second-generation fuels from algae and other plants that people don't eat.

"We view ourselves as a target-rich environment," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said last week in announcing plans to provide wind and solar developers with Army land and long term agreements to buy their electricity. The Army aims to get 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2025.

McHugh noted that the military accounts for 80% of the federal government's overall energy use and spends $15 billion a year on fuel.

"This is the right thing to do for the environment, for the taxpayer and, most important, the right thing to do for our soldiers," he said.

Sentiments like this are becoming increasingly common among military men and women -- a crowd not often thought of as the vanguard of the green energy movement.

An executive from one of the world's largest wind turbine builders recently told CNNMoney that militaries the world over go to great lengths to accommodate their turbines near bases, even though they have a tendency to interfere with radar.

One Army medic returning from Iraq recently switched his home to solar power. He said the amount of fuel he saw the U.S. military consume in Iraq was a driving factor.

Pretty good read and the ideas certainly make sense.
50% of Nellis AFB is powered by the largest non-commercial solar array in the US.

Everyone should look into solar/wind/hydro, even if you don't put in a backup system for self-sufficency. Grid tied systems are safe and effective, and power companies have to pay you for what you backfeed while their grid is up.. you can spin that power meter in reverse...
My friend in Florida has solar panels on her roof. If I recall correctly it runs her pool system and most of her home. I will have to ask her again to be sure but its very cool and she says it saves her a ton of money.
Net Metering
Of course, whenever you install a grid-connected solar electric system, arrangements must be made with the utility regarding the exchange of power (rather than non-solar customers' consumption of power only). In Nevada, when a home solar power system produces excess energy in a given month, that net excess generation (NEG) is carried over to the customer's next bill at the retail rate. In most states, all accounts must be settled at the end of a 12-month billing cycle, but in Nevada, NEG carries on indefinitely. If the system accumulates any renewable energy credits (RECs), they stay with the system owner unless the system is subsidized by the utility, in which case the utility gets ownership of all RECs.

basically, power companies have to "pay" you (in pretty much all states) if you are grid tied and backfeed legally with a grid-loss disconnect... basically it just stacks up as 'rollover power' on your bill. No power bill sounds good to me, it'd be even better if you could get a physical check for doing it from the power company. I intend on looking at the past couple years power bills for this house and seeing exactly what, and how much, we'd need to be able to go to a grid tied with backup battery system here. Right now we have 2 gasoline gensets on-site, one 3500w and my 800w unit. Pretty sure we could cut power to some of the house and be good to go with no change to how we do things, but I'd need to look at numbers for that.