Solar farms on Australian Defence Force establishments in the Northern Territory, RAAF Base Darwin and Robertson Barracks, as part of a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) for renewable (solar) energy. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Energy Insecurity

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One of the lessons that countries are learning from the current war in Ukraine is that centralised power generation creates energy vulnerability, and therefore energy insecurity. In a despicable move against the civilians of Ukraine, Russia has targeted energy infrastructure.

Wars have been fought over access to energy sources for centuries, and energy generation can be both a weapon and a casualty of war. “I think that we underestimated that we have also an energy battlefield — not only the battlefield with weapons, but energy is also a huge battlefield,” Artem Semenyshyn, executive director of the Solar Energy Association of Ukraine, said. They don’t just need an electric Bushmaster, but energy sovereignty.

Following the example of other countries, Australia is not only decentralising its energy generation, but installing renewable energy generation on Australian Defence Force (ADF) bases. Ten ADF sites will receive solar energy and battery storage systems at a cost of AU$64 million. The newly elected federal Labor government is acting quickly to move all parts of the economy over to renewables.

Energy Insecurity
Solar farms on Australian Defence Force establishments in the Northern Territory, RAAF Base Darwin and Robertson Barracks, as part of a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) for renewable (solar) energy. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

The Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program is expected to deliver 60 MW of solar energy and 25 MWh of battery storage, equivalent to the energy requirements of 15,000 households per year.

“I am pleased to announce a significant investment in the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program which marks a firm commitment to sustainable environmental management in support of Defence capability,” Assistant Minister for Defence, the Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP, said.

“This investment helps to take pressure off local energy grids by making Defence facilities more self-reliant. Because renewables are the cheapest form of energy, these upgrades should also reduce energy costs and drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

“More investment in renewables helps to deliver Defence savings on energy costs so that more can be invested in capability into the future.”

Earlier stages already implemented have delivered savings of approximately $380,000 per year and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1,793 tonnes per annum. New works should begin shortly across several states and territories and be completed by 2028. The effects on local communities should be positive.

Energy Insecurity
Solar farms on Australian Defence Force establishments in the Northern Territory, RAAF Base Darwin and Robertson Barracks, as part of a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) for renewable (solar) energy. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

“The program will support jobs and small businesses in regional communities through delivery, preparation and installation and maintenance as we anticipate their participation in the preparation and delivery of program works,” Minister Thistlethwaite said.
The projects, announced last month, will see the delivery of two large-scale renewable energy projects at Robertson Barracks in the Northern Territory and the Edinburgh Defence Precinct in South Australia.

“Additional projects will increase resilience at Defence bases and reduce dependency on fuel supply chains for backup power generation at:

    • RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal, Larrakeyah Barracks, and Harts Range in the Northern Territory;
    • RAAF Bases Curtin and Learmonth and the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia; and
    • Woomera Range Complex in South Australia.

“Design work will also commence for a solar system at the Russell Headquarters complex in the ACT.

“Renewable energy and storage will be achieved through:

    • installation of renewable systems to diversify supply and increase energy independence;
    • battery storage systems to increase energy resilience and power quality;
    • piloting of microgrid projects to complement existing base electrical networks, to reduce reliance on diesel fuel; and
    • investigating and managing risks associated with new technology and electrical systems, including cyber security and electromagnetic interference.”
Energy Insecurity
Solar farms on Australian Defence Force establishments in the Northern Territory, RAAF Base Darwin and Robertson Barracks, as part of a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) for renewable (solar) energy. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

In the aftermath of the war, Ukraine and Europe are expected to move rapidly into renewable and decentralised power generation. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, policies are already being developed to attract invest for the reconstruction of the Ukrainian energy sector. Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been severely damaged by Russian missile attacks, creating energy insecurity.

CSIS recognises the need for an energy system that ensures energy security and independence. By deepening the connection and economic relationship with the European Union, they note that Ukraine has potentially abundant wind, solar, and biomass energy sources. Perhaps the country could become an exporter of green energy, once peace is restored.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated in 2015 that Ukraine has the potential to install at least 16 GW of wind power and 4 GW of solar. “Unfortunately, the highest potential for renewable energy is concentrated in regions that have been or are currently under Russian control.”

Living in battlefield conditions means that you value energy generation close to where you need it. Micro-solar installations on hospitals and residential housing towers bring power to the people and are less vulnerable to failure during attack.

“The Feb. 24, 2022, start of the invasion coincided with a test by Ukraine’s national electric utility to disconnect its power supply from grids in Russia and Belarus. That pressured Ukraine’s grid operators to quickly synchronize its grid with Europe’s, say analysts,” Scientific American writes.

“At the beginning of the invasion when the electricity shut off, some people with residential solar panels allowed neighbours to charge their phones and connect to the internet to read the news about the invasion or send messages to relatives.”

In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has set a net zero target for emissions to be achieved by 2050. Within the past 12–18 months, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), part of the MoD, has been implementing Project Prometheus to install solar farms throughout the UK, completing the UK’s largest solar farm in 2015 with a capacity of almost 70 MW. Large solar farms have also been completed at Coltishall and Wroughton. Together, the sites have a total rated capacity just under 200 MW.

Some have pointed out that this energy transition is not truly independent, as the panels being used are made in China. But once the panels are installed, they work for decades. And they are built beyond China as well.

The UK also has massive wind farms, especially onshore in Scotland and offshore in the North Sea. Hopefully future aggressors are not working on weapons that could easily take these down.

Germany has had to reassess its reliance on cheap Russian gas and the slow-walking to renewables. “Energy policy is security policy — and security policy is energy policy,” the European Council on Foreign Relations writes. Renewables are the way forward, as a dictator cannot turn off the wind and the sun. A country can achieve energy sovereignty with renewables.

“How are the German armed forces to fulfil their defence mission in the future if fossil fuels increasingly become stranded assets in the economy and in civil society? The German armed forces should therefore actively participate in shaping the energy transition. In view of the long procurement and utilisation periods of military systems, they should consider alternative propulsion systems at an early stage in order to avoid future operational disadvantages.”

Defence departments throughout the world are discovering that being dependent on another nation for energy supply is a recipe for energy insecurity and hence vulnerability. The good news is that technology already exists to make everyone energy secure.


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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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