Department of Defense: Military Moves Toward Energy Efficiency

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Regardless of all the accusatory finger pointing towards this nation or that, in terms of fossil fuel energy wastefulness, many may not comprehend the reality of the situation. Some might be utterly surprised to learn that the United States military, according to various accounts are most likely the worldwide champions when it comes to operational energy consumption. In fact according to one Congressional Service Research report, “Department of Defense Energy Initiatives: Background and Issues for Congress” experts Schwartz, Blakeley, and O'Rourke inform that literally billions of dollars are spent annually upon “petroleum-based liquid fuel” thereby establishing the Department of Defense's main source of performance supplies.  It is no secret that in this intensely fast-paced global environment wherein the intricacies of international economy and commerce has been the center of so much focus, what can anyone personally – or at the organizational or federal level – do without an adequate source of energy? 

The focus of this written topic considers three basic ways how the Department of Defense might best pursue better sustainable energy approaches. One solution involves the engagement of perhaps capturing an alternative energy solution altogether, while the second fueling possibility may be to instigate a reduction of energy usage to assuage the plight of costly spending and energy waste, or a third choice which simply finds a plausible method to balance the two previous considerations. Government as a Public Administration entity must be concerned with effectiveness and efficiency, yet oftentimes may have gotten bogged down with routine implementations of daily activities. It is no wonder then that Defense Acquisition, Foreign Affairs Analyst, and Naval Affairs specialists speak to the issue in their collective report to proclaim that various Department of Defense (DOD) hearing debates have been on the Congressional platform for initiative discourse.  A side mention of monetary cost is important.

After costs are reigned in, would it be actually feasible for such an enormous military effort as large as that of the United States entire military force to shift to an alternative energy source? This concept bears investigation. According to the same aforementioned Congressional Research Service report it is acknowledged and affirmed that by its own estimation, the DOD utilizes approximately 75% of its energy for operational tasks and the remaining 25% for installation interests, or non-tactical activities and over a period of the last decade “substantially” increased its “overall budget” to some $17 billion in the 2011 Fiscal Year.  Wrap your head around that if you can. Nevertheless, the case for a total shift to alternative fuel considers far more than meets the eye. For example, and in other words, any argument over which branch of military service like the Navy or Air Force uses more energy would actually be a moot point and unproductive in trying to solve the problem. 

And a problem it is – or at least a formidable challenge. In consideration of a reliable, total, and sustainably workable net-zero energy program that makes a shift away from current expensive oil-supply dependency planning and implementation would need to be impeccable. Lee Daniel comments in his article, “The Military Lines Up for Net Zero” from a publication in Planning, tackles just that question. Daniel announces that this biggest national employer has set out goals to not only deal with expense of energy based on oil imports and “potential operational vulnerabilities,” but that the DOD has hit upon a plan entitled the DOD Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.  To avoid colossal disaster outages, power deficits due to utility disruptions whether caused by attacks or any other such likelihoods the plan seeks to not only curb financial costs and improve spending efficiency but to enhance military operations capabilities.  When you think about the vast lands, water assets, and inter-connectivity of carrying such a lofty goal out management technology and teamwork will need to be at its finest. 

Part of the sustainability approach of the DOD Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan as reports Lee, would utilize several military bases as “test beds” with each location to serve as sort of a prototype in the quest for how a “net-zero installation represents both an ultimate goal and a process to help determine an optimal energy, water, and waste strategy for the DOD and its collective assets.”  Makes sense, right? Given the sensitive and seriousness of military endeavors demands that the best in agricultural, financial, and engineering expertise in all areas of planning and implementation converge to assimilate a program that truly enables a 100% alternative energy solution to be realized. 

The situation in the pursuit to this end, Lee observes, has the DOD Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan keeping in mind tier levels for its development in coordination of all federal agencies and involvement by doing some of the following: a)  A 30 percent energy reduction by the year 2015, b) Reducing potable water consumption by 2 percent annually, through year 2020, and c) A diversion of 50 percent non-hazardous solid waste.  Of course, since many military installations power their own supply of energy it appears that this method of incremental testing makes good common sense to pursue – albeit an ambitious switchover to bypassing the usefulness of fossil oil-based fuels and looking towards biodiesel fuels, while also targeting steam energy in particular to begin to be phased out.  Perhaps a severe reduction in energy usage is a better answer. 

Given the complexities and uncertainty, along with the timeliness involved in shifting altogether to an alternative foundational base of energy, the smartest idea may for now simply be to cutback on energy use and implement steps to reduce energy expenditure overall. In the Naval War College Review journal, University Professor Dr. Steve Yetiv and Lieutenant Alaina Chambers in “The Great Green Fleet: The U.S. Navy and Fossil-Fuel Alternatives” discuss and snap that the reality embraces more than the “obvious issues of the costs of transportation and the protection of oil resources and infrastructure but extend to broader problems as well.”  They also remark that if you wait for 100 percent certainty in any given situation it is possible for to be unprepared for any kind of disastrous event or respond to threats that stalks military operational concerns on intense levels. With this in mind, the switchover to a completely green solution and entirely replacing the existent oil-and-foreign dependent energy supply might be impractical at best – and devastating at worse. See the problem?

It would problem be a good move to engage a plethora of scientific means to figure out just where, and how, to most effectively chop off and reduce wastefulness in energy that is currently in place. Just in terms of as individuals endeavor to cut energy waste in their personal lives, by doing simple things like turning off electrically based lighting when not in use, or turning down the heating or air conditioning system can exponentially save money, and maybe a similar approach can be implemented at the military industrial level. 

One thing is certain. And that is that the problem or challenge will not be solved on short order. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. Suzanne Roig in “Defense Officials defend 'Great Green Fleet' cost” convinces of the complexity of the situation that while Congressional critics argue that biofuel is too expensive “The Senate is girding for a battle,” while Republicans denounce the military's green “energy push” as just another ploy of the Obama Administration to foolishly promote an extensive alternative fuels program which make “little economic sense.”  It always seems to come down to the matter of money. What's it going to cost, and who's going to pay for it? Meanwhile Chambers and Yetiv note that “the Pentagon is struggling to identify the true cost of supplying deployed units in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.”  It may seem ideal to balance the two as a solution, but under present circumstances a reduction of energy usage may be deemed the best. 


Chambers, Alaina M., and Steve A. Yetiv. 2011. “The Great Green Fleet: The U.S. Navy and Fossil-Fuel Alternatives.” Naval War College Review 64, no. 3: 61-77. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 27, 2013).

Lee, Daniel. “The Military Lines Up for Net Zero.” Planning 79, no. 4 (April 2013): 16-20. Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed June 27, 2013).

Roig, Suzanne. “Defense Officials defend 'Great Green Fleet' cost.” Reuters (July 2012).

Schwartz, Moshe, Blakeley, Katherine, and Ronald O'Rourke. Department of Defense Energy Initiatives: Background and Issues for Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012. [Series 7-5700 and R42558].