The cleantech growth journey: CEO Retreat

The United States Navy adopts cleantech to save lives and money

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As alternative energy comes of age, the US military is emerging as a disciplined defender of green technologies.

The military’s investment in the technologies is driven in part by the same cost- and resource-saving criteria that entice the private sector. Yet the United States Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines are also motivated by a more compelling agenda: saving soldiers’ lives.

Cleantech as a military advantage

Higher energy efficiency means fewer personnel put at risk in refueling operations. In the long run, being able to do more with less than a foe translates into military advantage.

For example, for every 50 tanker convoys one Marine is killed or wounded, says Thomas W. Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy.

“That’s one Marine not going back safely to the family. It’s one Marine not out there conducting operations. One Marine not there to help rebuild those communities. That’s simply too heavy a price to pay.”

Previously, the top brass would likely have tackled this problem solely by trying to secure the fuel supply with greater firepower. This time, however, Navy planners realized that cutting energy consumption at forward bases could deliver similar benefits.

Reducing the volume of fuel needed reduced the frequency of deliveries. Fewer convoys meant fewer personnel at risk.

Balancing the fuel budget

The scale and complexity of the Navy’s energy challenge is gargantuan. Service-wide, Hicks explains, the Navy spends US$4 billion to US$5 billion per year fueling a fleet of 286 ships and some 3,700 aircraft, as well as another US$1.2 billion or so to power naval installations.

While the private sector can adjust to changing energy prices, the military has only two options: cut consumption or request more funding. “You can imagine going up to the Hill these days, in the constrained fiscal climate that we have, and asking for more money,” Hicks remarks.

“It’s a very short conversation. The answer is ‘no’ and we understand why. So how do you pay for that?”
The answer, in part, has been a strategic emphasis on efficiency, renewables and alternative energy sources.

This effort became a top priority starting in October 2009, when Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus laid out a set of broad energy goals, including an effort to source half of the Navy’s energy from alternate sources by 2020.

Green innovations

Given its historical strength as a technology innovator, it is not surprising that the Navy has put an emphasis on efforts to improve deeply rooted, wasteful operations.

Some day in the future, today’s mostly fossil-fueled Navy may seem a quaint memory.

Thomas W. Hicks Thomas W. Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy
Tom Hicks was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy in March 2010. Mr. Hicks serves as the Secretariat focal point on all matters pertaining to the Department of Navy’s energy conservation, energy efficiency, energy sources, and green initiatives. Mr. Hicks joined the Department of the Navy from the U.S. Green Building Council where he held several executive roles.