What is in this article?:
- The U.S. military, the nation’s largest user of fossil fuels, could be the catalyst for reducing the country’s dependence on imported oil by moving to alternate energy forms — in the process providing the demand that the fledgling industry needs to become financially viable.
- The Department of Defense uses 90 percent of fossil fuels consumed in America.
THE USS MAKIN ISLAND, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship built at Pascagoula, Miss., is the Navy’s first hybrid vessel, with both diesel and electric drives.
'Too high a price to pay'
“Today, we import into Afghanistan more gasoline and water than anything else. For every 50 supply convoys, we lose a Marine, killed or wounded. That is simply too high a price to pay.
It’s expensive in other ways, too. To get a gallon of gasoline to a Marine front line unit in southern Afghanistan, we have go to take it across either the Pacific or Atlantic, then put it on a truck and send it up across the Hindu Kush mountain range, or send it down through the northern distribution network, then take it all the way across Afghanistan to a forward operating base.”
A big reason for the military to move to alternative energy, Mabus says, “is to get more efficient. Although we’re a seagoing service, we also have 3.3 million acres of land and 72,500 buildings. We’re looking at everything: geothermal, hydrothermal, solar, wind, wave, and we’re becoming more efficient at everything we do.”
The Navy’s first hybrid ship, the USS Makin Island, was built at Pascagoula, Miss., and launched in September 2006, Mabus says.
“It’s a big deck amphibian, one of the biggest ships in our fleet, and on its maiden voyage from Pascagoula around South America to San Diego, it saved almost $2 million in fuel costs, based on prices of a year and a half ago. At those prices, it will save a quarter billion dollars in fuel costs. It’s got an electric drive for speeds under 12 knots [13.81 mph]. War ships don’t go that fast very often, so it can use the more efficient electric drive instead of the diesel-guzzling engines that normally drive it.
“We’re building every building in the Navy to meet energy-efficient standards at no extra cost. We’re managing life cycle costs better — looking at what it costs to operate a ship over its 30-year life, or the 20-year life of an aircraft — and we’re doing it all to be better fighters.”
A Marines unit has already proven the effectiveness and efficiency of alternate energy sources under battlefront conditions, Mabus says.
“When they were walking out the door heading for some of the toughest fighting in Afghanistan, they were given some alternative energy devices. Things like solar blankets — roll ‘em up and put ‘em in your pack, and they’ll power radios, GPS units, and other devices.
“They saved that Marines company 700 pounds of batteries and saved them being resupplied every two days, so they could stay out on patrol longer.”
Other systems enabled the Marines to cut their energy use at their main headquarters base by 25 percent, Mabus says, and to reduce fossil fuel use at some forward operating bases by over 90 percent.
“This saved lives of Marines, made them better fighters, made them more expeditionary. It saved over $50 million a year and 450 resupply flights, and 180 trucks got taken off the road.”