Energy as a National Security Challenge —Col. Dan Nolan @ Solar Summit

In his morning keynote at the sold-out Southern Solar Summit, Col. Dan Nolan (U.S. Army ret.) asked the musical question:
“When did our Marines become Birkenstock-wearing tree huggers?”
This was after some Marines asked for solar power so they wouldn’t have to haul fuel in long convoys, which were among the most dangerous missions. Most of that fuel was going into very inefficient generators to run very inefficient air conditioners in tents in the desert. Dealing with that got the military thinking about energy security: assured access to mission-critical energy.

Looking up, he asked:

“What is it we as a nation need to understand about our own energy security?”
He identified America’s strategic center of gravity as its economy. It’s very resilient but has vulnerabilities open to attack. So how do we secure those vulnerabilities?

The main vulnerabilities are:

  • Petroleum for transportation (99% of oil used in this sector)
    U.S. is world’s largest oil consumer 25% of world usage, 11 million barrels/day, 51% net imports, $1 billion/day imported oil, much of that money going to fuel foreign authoritarians and their militaries, plus spending on our military to defend it.
  • Electricity for homes, businesses, industry
    Not a supply problem: an environmental problem, which can be replaced by renewables (solar, wind, tides). Also the brittle grid. Wouldn’t distributed generation be more secure?
Both are mostly unprotected. Especially oil: production, transportation, refineries, storage. Foreign oil dependence is U.S. greatest strategic problem: direct cost, drain on economy, vulnerability.

Looking at the military again, technology is the U.S. military’s center of gravity (COG), and that is powered by electricity, which is its critical vulnerability: remember those supply convoys. He said the military tends to be environmentalist because they have to use the same terrain repeatedly.

DoD employs more than 3 million people: nation’s largest employer and largest energy user. Many buildings (307,000, mostly old) and many acres (28.6 million, as big as Pennsylvania). Many opportunities for retrofitting for efficiency and conservation and for energy generation.

DoD has 252 solar PV initiatives (and many other types).

DoD FY2007 energy bill: $3.4 billion. Plenty of opportunity to reduce that, and to lead the entire U.S. economy to renewables.

Electricity drives the rest of the economy.

In 2001 U.S. military realized it had to reduce dependence on the brittle grid. Of 584 U.S. bases, 90% now have local renewable energy supplies which can take them off the grid and export power to local communities.

$1.9 billion DoD renewable energy market by 2025.

DoD is helping drive the U.S. economy towards renewable energy.


PS: These notes summarize points from throughout Col. Nolan’s talk, not necessarily in the order he gave them.