Unstable global energy supplies and greatly reduced federal funding might be the two biggest threats facing the US Air Force – but it looks like clean energy technology is the solution to both.
That’s the message from the US Air Force Energy Strategic Plan, which signals a major shift toward energy efficiency, renewables, distributed generation and microgrids, and green buildings to “actively seek solutions to the energy challenges that pose a threat to our operations.”
USAF action could have a significant impact on America’s energy consumption and emissions footprint. After all, this one single branch of the military represents 48% of all Department of Defense (DoD) energy consumption, which in turn represents 80% of all energy consumption by the federal government.
Massive Reach, Massive Footprint
Put simply, the Air Force uses a tremendous amount of resources every year: it burns 2.5 billion gallons of aviation fuel, uses 64 trillion BTUs of energy, and consumes 27 billion gallons of water. That all adds up to a $9 billion annual energy bill (8% of the USAF’s total 2011 budget), a $150 million water bill, and 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Air Force brass are realistic about their resource footprint, admitting the USAF will continue to consume large quantities of energy for the foreseeable future. But, using less energy is a strategic imperative. “Reducing demand for energy is the single, best action the Air Force can take to improve its energy security,” says the report.
Less Energy, Stronger Air Force
Reducing demand is where the strategic plan truly takes flight with the Air Force’s most ambitious goals. The USAF aims to improve aviation energy efficiency 10% by 2020, reduce total facility energy consumption 15% by 2020, lower energy intensity 30% by 2015, and cut petroleum consumption of all ground vehicles 2% annually through 2020.
In addition, the USAF wants 100% of new construction and renovations starting in 2013 to meet high-performance building standards on the way to ultimately hitting the mark of all new buildings achieving net-zero energy use by 2030. The strategic plan also aims to cut potable water consumption 26% by 2020 and reduce overall facility water consumption 20% by 2020.
The plan is candid about the USAF’s need to provide its own energy and diversify away from fossil fuels. “Air Force operations are heavily dependent upon petroleum…and this dependency poses significant strategic and security vulnerabilities.”
Biofuels And Distributed Renewables Shine
And that’s where renewables come in. As with any fuel-intensive fleet, alternative fuels play the largest role in greening the Air Force’s energy consumption. The strategic plan mandates the USAF increase its use of alternative aviation fuel blends for non-contingency operations to 50% by 2025. In addition, the USAF will certify 100% of the aviation fleet for bio-based aviation fuel blends by 2013.
This charge is considerable, given the fact that military aircraft have decades-long service lives, and nearly all of the existing USAF fleet was designed to run on petroleum-based fuel products.
Just as the USAF’s contrails get greener, so will its tailpipe emissions. The strategic plan calls for 100% of new light-duty vehicles to be alternative or flex-fuel by 2015, with overall alternative fuel use in ground vehicles increasing 10% thorough 2015, and alternative fuels being used 100% of the time when they are available and cost-effective.
Last, but not certainly not least, distributed renewables will continue their march across USAF facilities. The strategic plan mandates that on-base renewables provide 1% of all facility consumption by 2013 while building 1,000 megawatts of on-site capacity by 2016, and facility consumption of renewables must increase to 25% of total electricity use by 2025.
Toward An “Air Base Of The Future”
Long-term, if everything comes together the strategic plan could create an “air base of the future” where microgrids ensure bases can operate on their own.
“The air base of the future would rely on power generated from renewable energy sources connected to a centralized storage facility and directly to facilities. Excess power generated during the day or night from renewable sources would be stored and used during high demand periods, and the installation would rely on distributed sources of energy to reduce single point vulnerabilities and rely on energy from the main grid as backup—not the other way around.”
All in all, the USAF’s strategic outlook for energy is ambitious but based on the military’s cold analysis of the energy challenges facing us all, and is going to ultimately reduce costs and risks. Given their expertise winning wars, maybe the rest of us should strap in and go along for the ride toward a sustainable future.
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