The U.S. Army has just issued its latest policy for Operational Energy, and it provides the clearest demonstration yet that the Department of Defense is serious about transitioning the colossal machinery of the American military into a more flexible, efficient and sustainable future.
The new Army energy policy could be instructive for the civilian sector, too, because it treats fuel as more than a matter of supply chain logistics and bottom line concerns. Rather, the policy outlines how 21st century energy technologies can combine with a culture of energy awareness to become intimately entwined with operational efficiency, creating new opportunities that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve with 20th century fuels.
Army operational energy is a critical enabler for the range of military operational capabilities from the individual Soldier to strategic levels...Leaders and individuals at all levels must understand how energy contributes to their respective operational roles and consider it in planning decisions and daily behaviors.
The logistics of this tail are difficult enough for supplying permanent overseas bases, and the difficulties grow exponentially when it comes to supplying forward bases, temporary camps, and ground forces on the move.
In terms of the kind of ground war that the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past ten years, the consequences go beyond extra expense, inefficiency and inconvenience, as the result of long supply lines has been death and injury for troops involved in fuel and water supply convoys during this period.
That risk can be reduced to some extent by conservation, and to that end, a key element of the new policy is energy awareness. That includes training and education for individual troops, on up to an interdisciplinary project at West Point involving 16 core courses.
"This focus on operational energy is not about, necessarily, trying to save fuel. It's about making (soldiers) more combat-effective and reducing (their) risk."
Accordingly, the new policy calls for increasing the use of renewable energy and alternative energy sources that enable more flexibility and interchangeability, as well as reliability, durability and efficiency across all energy systems.
For a look at what this part of the policy means in action, check out the new "SmartBED" initiative of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
The SmartBED concept is based on the idea that the effective ground force of the future will not depend on long, cumbersome supply chains but will have the capability to scavenge energy on the go, helped along by compact, high-efficiency energy storage systems.
When fully realized, SmartBED will be a seamlessly integrated network including generators, solar arrays and energy storage that provides energy "when and where it is needed," but without the waste and inefficiency that characterizes existing systems.
If all of the above is beginning to sound like the outline of a comprehensive corporate sustainability plan, that's no accident.
Just as sustainable energy is critical for survival in the future commercial world, U.S. military operations have to adapt to 21st century conditions, and in that regard, the Department of Defense is well aware of the potential for military operations to play a sustainable energy leadership role for the civilian sector.
That is evident in the Army's fleet efficiency initiatives, which include innovative fuel-saving strategies that can be applied to existing commercial fleets as well as new technologies like electric vehicles.
The Air Force also recently issued a sustainability plan called The Air Force Strategic Energy Plan, which is similar to the Army's Operational Energy plan but includes an explicit focus on the water-energy nexus, which is another area of critical concern to business.
For its part, the Navy illustrates how the Department of Defense has formed commercial sector partnerships to promote sustainable fuels, including an algae biofuel partnership with global shipping giant Maersk.
[Image: Courtesy of Army Research Laboratory]
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.