US Military Faces Trio Of Renewable Energy Goals

If the question is, “Will the U.S. military reach its renewable energy goal?” the best answer might be: “Which goal?”

In his big climate-change speech this week, President Obama said the Department of Defense was being directed to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on or around its bases, but that’s just one of three renewable energy goals that have been set out for the military, as a new report from the Pentagon outlines.

u.s. military renewable energy

Photo illustration of White Sands solar array (image via U.S. Army)

For instance, there’s the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required all federal agencies to source at least 5 percent of their energy consumption from renewables in fiscal year 2012. Despite all the effort being made (we’ve written a zillion stories about the military and renewables), according to the just-released Annual Energy Management Report [PDF], the military failed to meet that goal. The Department of Defense said it got 4 percent of its electricity consumption from renewables.

This is particularly interesting because in 2013, the goal in EPAct, as it’s known, rises to 7.5 percent, and in his new plan the president said he was aiming for 20 percent by 2020. How meaningful this 2020 goal might be is hard to say. The earlier, lower goals are encoded in law; this one isn’t. In any case, the military clearly has a lot of work to do to get there and the Army in particular needs to get its act together: In FY 2012, a mere 0.5 percent of its electricity consumption came from renewable energy sources.

image via U.S. Department of Defense

image via U.S. Department of Defense

The second goal the military is striving to reach is also part of legislation – what’s known as the “10 U.S.C §2911(e) renewable energy goal.” That clutch of numbers and letters refers to a spot in the U.S. Code of Laws that states that “It shall be the goal of the Department of Defense … to produce or procure not less than 25 percent of the total quantity of facility energy it consumes within its facilities during fiscal year 2025 and each fiscal year thereafter from renewable energy sources.” Along the way, in 2018, the goal to hit is 15 percent.

Here, the new annual report says, “DoD continued to make progress … in achieving the FY 2018 interim and FY 2025 renewable energy goal,” with total production and procurement of renewable energy at 9.6 percent. (This number is higher than the EPAct 4 percent figure largely because the military doesn’t consume all of the energy it produces.)

This, too, leaves the military a long way to go, but the good news is that there’s been a decline in reliance on the purchase of renewable energy credits to meet the goal. Seventy-five percent of the renewable energy procured or produced in FY 2012 actually came from the department’s 679 renewable energy projects (15 percent was purchased and 10 percent came from RECs). By the way, with solar and wind the marquee renewable energy sources in the public eye, you might be surprised at the breakdown of those projects:

Geothermal electric power is by far the most significant renewable energy source in DoD, accounting for nearly half of the Department’s renewable energy goal attainment. Municipal solid waste is used for both electricity and steam production, and accounts for 16 percent of the Department’s renewable energy production. There are 147 ground source heat pump (GSHP) projects throughout DoD, contributing 9 percent of the total renewable energy produced on DoD installations. Biomass and biogas from captured methane make up 8 percent of the supply mix, followed by 357 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems contributing to approximately 8 percent of the supply mix.

As for the third Department of Defense target, the 3 GW installed capacity goal highlighted by the president in his speech this week, the funny thing there is, that was actually announced by the president in April 2012. He didn’t explicitly call it a new goal this week, but a lot of reporting interpreted it that way. Anyway, it’s still too early to say how the services are progressing in hitting the targets (set for 2020 for the Navy and 2025 for the Air Force and Army).

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Cl1ffClav3n

    The label of “renewable” is terribly misused. Just because something derives energy from wind or sunlight or geothermal heat does not make it renewable. All of these energy systems require huge capital investments of technology and infrastructure up front. They also require periodic recapitalization to refresh equipment every 20 or 30 years. Right now, the bulk of the energy used to capitalize and recapitalize solar and wind and geothermal and hydro is fossil fuel. Mining ores and minerals and kilning lime for concrete and smelting iron for steel and melting sand into glass and smelting aluminum and running forges and heavy industrial plants and transporting and erecting solar and wind farm components all require high quality, high power density fossil fuel energy. The same is true for biofuels which are fertilized by ammonia made from natural gas and require non-renewable phosphate and potash mineral nutrients and are treated with herbicides and pesticides made from petroleum and processed in mills and biorefineries powered by natural gas and electricity from coal and nuclear plants. All the things today labeled “renewable energy” sources are only fractionally renewable. According to federal law (16 CFR 260.15) producers of such partially renewable products should have to buy RECs to cover the non-renewable portions of their energy content before being able to use the “renewable” label and claim any grants or subsidies or benefits such as EPA RINs and tax credits. The exact percentage of renewable content and GHG reduction should be calculated from rigorous lifecycle analyses in accordance with ISO 14040, 14044, and 14067. Many studies published since 2008 have done this and found that claims of renewability and GHG reductions are hugely inflated and often completely spurious. This is true of many of the US military’s high-profile projects like the $100 million-dollar Nellis solar farm that will wear out long before the 83 years required to recoup the cost to taxpayers and ratepayers, let alone break even on net energy. When the math is done in an intellectually honest way, the Bush and Obama administration’s venture capital spending spree on alternative energy will be found to have wasted huge amounts of fossil fuel energy as well as huge amounts of citizens’ taxes and money borrowed from China via the Treasury and Federal Reserve Board on temporary construction jobs building non-renewable energy sinks in the form of biorefineries and wind turbines and solar farms that will largely be in disrepair in 20 years and be abandoned just like the last wave begun in the 1970s. Drive by a wind farm today and maybe half the turbines are operational. It is only profitable to build new ones because of the subsidies, not to maintain existing ones. We can’t even maintain our bridges because we are throwing away money on false promises of “renewable energy.” The day that solar energy is sufficient in quality and power density to capitalize and recapitalize solar farms with an energy profit and wind power is sufficient to perform all the lifecycle steps required to renew wind energy at an energy profit will be the day either of these deserve to be called “renewable.” Right now that label is a farce and hides huge energy subsidies from fossil fuels and huge cash subsidies from hapless taxpayers and foreign lenders. There is no energy independence or national security improvement in bankrupting our government and saddling our economy with more expensive energy delivered with lower efficiency and greater net consumption of fossil fuels. If we don’t get serious about the science and commit ourselves to facing facts and doing what actually works instead of what sounds good, we are going to go the way of the Dodo bird. Unfortunately, the military is being a scientifically naive and politically-motivated accomplice in our national self-destruction instead of defending the nation’s security interests by becoming genuinely smart about the physics and economics and geopolitics of energy.