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 News Article

Clean Energy Tied to National Security, Official Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2013 – The changing U.S. and international energy pictures have a profound effect on security, a senior Pentagon official said here yesterday.

Sharon E. Burke, the assistant secretary of defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, told industry partners and congressional leaders at the American Council on Renewable Energy's National Renewable Energy Policy Forum that the motivation for seeking out clean energy sources is strongly rooted in national security interests.

The International Energy Agency’s world energy outlook, released in November, is “the shot heard ’round the world,” Burke said. According to the report, she said, the world will need $37 trillion dollars in new investment in the energy supply system from now to 2035.

Even as mature economies increase their energy efficiency, switch fuels and reduce their petroleum demand, the thirst for oil among the world's economies -- particularly developing economies -- will continue to grow apace, Burke said.

“China will account for something like 50 percent of that [growth],” she told the audience. “When you add in India and the Middle East, you're talking about 60 percent.”

The United States is affecting the most change on the world energy picture, she said. The IEA estimates that by 2020, the United States is going to outstrip Saudi Arabia as an oil producer. Another report predicts that the U.S. will succeed Russia as a natural gas producer, she added.

This means the possibility exists that North America could be energy self-sufficient by 2035, Burke said. “Even as everyone else in the world has growing demand and contracting supply, we're bucking the trend,” she said.

This possibility has generated a lot of justifiable excitement, and for a variety of reasons, Burke said. There are positive consequences for the U.S. economy, for jobs and for the manufacturing sector, she said. But the Defense Department is most interested in the second-order geostrategic effects, Burke noted.

A danger in all this enthusiasm, she said, is that it overlooks the fact that the United States will still be part of a highly volatile global energy market, “and the world's supply and demand trends are going to continue to shape our own prosperity here at home.”

The energy security variables have implications that aren’t yet understood, Burke said. For example, she asked, what will happen if Saudi Arabia -- already the largest single consumer of petroleum in the Middle East -- becomes a net importer?

Last month, Iran conducted naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, which it has repeatedly threatened to close, she said.

“I know a lot of people who think those are empty threats, because such a closure would certainly hurt the Iranian people most of all, but this is 20 percent of the global oil market,” Burke said. “It would cripple the global economy, so certainly at DOD we take those threats seriously.”

Territorial disputes pose a different kind of threat, she said. Tensions flared recently between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, due in part to the expected presence of oil there, Burke said. In the Arctic, global climate change has made more oil and gas accessible, driving bordering nations to stake claims on formerly ice-bound geologic provinces.

The Defense Department has a history of looking at how the effects of climate change -- droughts, floods, population migration, sea level rise and shifts in arable land -- are an accelerant to instability, she said. In May, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called climate change a threat to national security, Burke added.

The need for clean energy and energy efficiency has an enduring security angle, she said, adding that it’s the only way to break out of the paradigm of foreign energy dependence and its associated instability.

The Defense Department’s changing mission also has energy security implications, Burke said. In January 2012, Panetta and President Barack Obama released new strategic guidance that called for a rebalance of focus to the Asia-Pacific region.

Considering that the Defense Department already is the single largest consumer of fuel in the country, if not the world, she said, it’s “sobering” to think about what the rebalance means for fuel consumption. Last year, the department used 4.3 billion gallons of petroleum, and spent about $20 billion on fuel, Burke said.

Beyond the rebalance and the long supply lines that it implies, the strategy articulates a changing security environment, Burke said, including rising powers, weapons of mass destruction, anti-access/area-denial and violent extremism. “We are organizing to meet these challenges,” she said, but the ability to do so hinges on maintaining energy security.

Everything from cyber to special operations to large-scale humanitarian assistance efforts requires a lot of energy, Burke noted.

“Consider this ability to disperse, to maneuver, to operate over long distances in remote locations, and to be aware that people are going to try to interdict your movements, try to prevent you,” she said. “That's a fuel challenge, and it's a fuel logistics challenge, and we have to get our arms around it.”

The department has to apply the lessons it learned over the past decade of war, Burke said. An average of 45 million gallons of fuel is consumed each month in Afghanistan, she said.

“Delivering all that fuel takes a toll on a lot of different things,” Burke said. “It takes a toll on helicopters, aircraft [and] trucks that are moving the fuel, and that's a bill that's going to come due, because we need all those things for other missions in the future, and their life has been shortened.”

The Army and Marine Corps have documented thousands of casualties related to fuel movements in Afghanistan and Iraq, Burke said. U.S. forces can protect those lines, she added, but the cost in people and resources is higher than it needs to be.

Maintaining a military that's ready for missions everywhere means it’s vital to use energy better and use better energy, Burke said, noting that the Defense Department is looking at a variety of energy efficiencies and renewable energy sources for military systems.

The conflicts of the last decade have made it clear that individuals are themselves a military system, Burke said. “Because they carry so much electronic gear now, it gives them great capabilities, … but it all requires power. It requires batteries,” she explained.

According to one Army estimate, soldiers walking a three-day foot patrol in Afghanistan may be carrying anywhere from 10 to 18 pounds of batteries, Burke told the audience. “We want to look at how we can power that particular system -- the human system -- better,” she said.

Other systems that require large amounts of energy are combat outposts and forward operating bases, Burke said. These bases serve as hubs for troops when they operate -- they project power from there, fight from there, live there, get intelligence from there and communicate from there. These activities are all powered by diesel generators, she said.

Fuel for those generators is delivered by truck convoys, helicopters, airdrops and even by donkey, Burke said. “Whatever it takes to get it there,” she said.

“The next system … is what I would call 'big movers,'” she said. “The individual on the base may be very critical to the operation, but the big volume is in ships and vehicles and aircraft. They go through an enormous amount of fuel.” They also provide the U.S. military with one of its biggest advantages -- the ability to move people and things anywhere at any time, Burke said.

The final system, “game-changers,” is a bit different from the others, she said.

“For example,” Burke said, “we're seeing a lot of unmanned systems come into the force in all domains -- underwater, on the ground, in the air -- and those radically change how much energy you consume and they also give you a lot of flexibility for the kind of energy you consume.”

For each of those systems, the department is investing in new, more efficient technologies, she said, including the technology of efficiency itself.

“I recognize efficiency isn't a technology, it's a suite of technologies, but for us, it's an extremely important investment, Burke said.

For example, she said, power management and distribution for forward operating bases is critical to reducing fuel use, but generators at those bases are often oversized and underloaded. The department is working to use generators more efficiently, including by stringing together several to create a microgrid, Burke said.

Those oversized generators burn a lot of fuel heating and cooling non-insulated structures, she said, so the department is looking at more efficient tents and other shelters.

“Heating and air conditioning is one of the biggest power users on the battlefield,” she added. “We've put a lot of money into research and development lately for how to get more innovative in heating and cooling for these environments.”

A second technology area of interest is energy storage, Burke said. “We’re interested in a whole range of battery technologies,” she said, “from Nano batteries for sensing, to more efficient lightweight batteries, to power equipment for the troops to large scale energy storage.”

Solar energy is being put to some promising uses, Burke said. At the troop level, she said, flexible solar rechargers are already out on the battlefield.

“We're also interested in ruggedized solar that can generate power at forward bases … [and] we’ve tested unmanned aerial systems using solar [power],” Burke said. In one such test, she said, the aircraft was aloft for two straight weeks without refueling.

Other technological developments the department is looking into, Burke said, include waste-to-energy and fuel cells for troops on the move and for unmanned systems.

The department is investing in alternative energy technologies because it makes strategic sense, Burke said.

“These are technologies that we think are going to help the troops do their missions better,” she said. “At the end of the day, in some respects we're technology agnostic. This is not an exhaustive list. We want anything that's going to help our troops meet the mission and to do their jobs better.”


Contact Author

Sharon E. Burke

Related Sites:
Special Report: Operational Energy Strategy
Special Report: DOD Sustainability

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