Renewable and efficient energy has some unlikely cheerleaders these days. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus have been sounding the alarm about climate change and its threat to our national security, and they specifically recognize the role fossil fuels play in exacerbating that situation.
Climate change and war
It's been more than a decade since a Pentagon study first concluded that the effects of climate change could lead to war. But there's a more immediate reason why folks such asSecretary Mabus are working hard to increase the military's share of energy that comes from renewable sources, and to improve energy efficiency: It's saving service members' lives right now.
You see, one of the most dangerous things a service member does in Afghanistan is to transport fuel. Fuel convoys result in fatalities all too frequently. Or consider Marines in remote outposts who rely on generators for electricity at night. Have you ever heard a generator running? It roars, loudly. And it gives away their location. Solar panels with stored energy for nighttime use? Silent.
Major military contractors are answering the call. General Electric (NYSE:GE) is heavily involved in microgrid technology development for the military. The company is involved in a major project to develop a microgrid at the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.. General Electric is particularly suited to overcoming the technical challenges associated with integrating microgrids with utilities. If successful, this kind of development would allow backup power systems to earn money when they're not on emergency operation. So, pretty much all the time.
Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) and Eaton (NYSE:ETN) have established new business units specifically dedicated to developing hydro and marine power for the Navy. Lockheed Martin is working on marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies, which are likely to find favor with a maritime organization. Lockheed Martin also provides solar energy and smart grid solutions for its military customers.
For its part, Eaton is one of the contractors working on an underwater, utility-scale energy generation system for the Navy. Eaton sees its work in this area as contributing to the commercial viability of deep ocean current alternative energy, which has significant potential to become an established, highly reliable and efficient source of energy.
Funny Eaton should say that, because Secretary Mabus said something along those lines in a conversation he and I had this week. He said that one of the virtues of the Navy's push into renewables is that it's likely to have societywide benefits, much as DARPA's investment in developing the Internet did. Watch the following video to hear more about how the military may be changing the face of energy.