Army Net Zero, Navy Green City — Hey, What’s Going On Here?

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Back in 2011 the US Army launched the ambitious Army Net Zero Vision, designed to transform its facilities from energy-sucking, infinitely thirsty creatures generating mounds of trash into lean, off-grid operations where nothing goes to waste. Meanwhile, in 2012 the Office of Naval Research partnered with Thailand to create the World Green City at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University. Both projects are in the news this week, so here’s a recap of the latest developments.

Army net zero, Navy green city
Courtesy of US Army (image cropped).

Army Net Zero

CleanTechnica covered the Army’s Net Zero Vision when it launched in 2011. The primary goal is to improve readiness, effectiveness and resiliency by applying net zero principles to energy and water consumption, and waste management.

The original Net Zero mission statement was vigorously unapologetic about the concept underlying those goals. That would be sustainability, and here’s the Net Zero Vision as initially described:

We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.

The Army appears to have taken down the original Net Zero site (drop us a note in the comment thread if you can find a link) and absorbed it into ASAIEE, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.

The ASAIEE Vision Statement is quite a bit more subdued:

Enhance Army mission effectiveness and resilience in a prudent, efficient, and forward thinking manner.

However, don’t let the Army’s dance around the s-word fool you. The Net Zero program is steaming full speed ahead, according to a report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory earlier this week.

The NREL Army Net Zero Report

The new NREL Army Net Zero Report focuses on nine pilot sites, which were included in the original launch of the initiative.


Of the nine, six are primarily addressing the energy aspect of net zero, which involves going off grid in favor of on site or hyperlocal renewable energy.

That group consists of California’s Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, Fort Hunter Liggett, and Sierra Army Depot as well as Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshal Islands, West Point in New York, and Fort Detrick in Maryland.

In addition, the Oregon Army National Guard is doing a multi-part net zero energy initiative that covers all of its facilities statewide.

Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Carson in Colorado are going the full monty with net zero energy, water, and waste.

Just those nine sites together account for about 8 percent of the Army’s overall energy use at its installations.

In other words, replacing fossil fuels at those sites with on site or hyperlocal renewable energy lops 8 percent off the Army’s fossil fuel dependency for its installations right then and there (vehicle fuel is a whole ‘nother can of worms).

Concurrently, the nine pilot sites have also achieved a collective 25 percent drop in energy consumption. NREL projects that if those savings could be achieved across all Army facilities, both in the US and overseas, the savings would tote up to 20 trillion BTUs and $300 million in annual energy costs.

For a complete rundown on the program up through 2013 you can check out NREL’s latest report, “Army Net Zero Energy Roadmap and Program Summary.”

The Navy Green City

We’ve been covering the Navy’s biofuel initiatives regularly, but this branch of the Armed Services also has a number of other sustainability initiatives up its sleeve and the Green City is one of them.

Officially dubbed the Chiang Mai World Green City, the effort was launched two years ago. As with Army Net Zero, the goal is to power the community with on site renewable energy.

So far the project includes solar energy with energy storage and a DC microgrid covering more than 20 buildings at Chiang Mai RajabhatUniversity. That includes housing, offices, commercial sites, and a produce farm spread out over 200 acres.

Partnering in the project provides the Navy with a living, real-world test bed for powering its overseas facilities with renewable energy. Applying the concept to seagoing vessels is a twinkle in the Navy’s eye right now, but that could also be in store for the future.

According to the Office of Naval Research, the Green City is a success. Part of that has to do with the choice of AC (alternating current) over DC (direct current):

The system at Chiang Mai can deliver DC electricity from an array of solar cells to locations on campus without having to convert to alternating current (AC) because it does not need to tie into a main power grid. The electricity is being produced locally to power modern devices such as computers and lighting, which already come equipped with DC inputs. This saves money and requires no extra equipment to convert DC to AC, a process that can result in a reduction of power.

The Navy also notes that the technology is already in place to deliver relatively small, transportable DC power plants that can run exclusively on renewable energy, which is a perfect fit for the Navy’s requirements.

Next up for the Office of Naval Research is Vietnam, where the agency anticipates collaborating on a pilot project to power remote communities with the nation’s rich renewable resources including solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, and hydro.

That project will build on lessons learned in renewable energy hotspot Hawaii. The Navy is a significant stakeholder in the state’s transition to energy independence, which includes a heavy dose of microgrid pilot projects.

Stay tuned.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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