Without Renewable Power, U.S. Army Could Fail in Iraq

wind farm
Wind turbines like these supply 25 percent of the electricity at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In a July 25 memo to the Pentagon, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer made a “Priority 1” request for solar—and wind-powered generators to help with the fight in Iraq. “Without this solution, personnel loss rates are likely to continue at their current rate,” Zilmer writes. “Continued casualty accumulation exhibits [the] potential to jeopardize mission success.”

The “thermal signature” of diesel-powered generators currently in use can enable enemies to detect U.S. outposts, experts say. And missions to supply the generators with JP-8, the standard battlefield fuel, are vulnerable to ambush. Without “a self-sustainable energy solution,” Zilmer notes, the U.S. Army will “continue to accrue preventable… serious and grave casualties.”

Although Zilmer’s memo shows a growing focus on incorporating renewable energy sources into combat operations, it is not the first time the U.S. military has embraced the benefits of renewables. A 2004 study conducted for the Army reported that using solar panels to recharge equipment batteries was a better option than having soldiers carry disposable batteries into combat. Pentagon research from June 2005 illustrates the costs and benefits of using solar power to reduce fuel use. And four wind turbines currently supply roughly 25 percent of electricity needs at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.  

According to a 2004 study by the Rocky Mountain Institute, more than 50 percent of all fuel consumed in the battlefield is used by support units, not frontline troops. Before the recent rise in oil prices, the U.S. Army spent some $200 million annually on fuel and paid personnel an estimated $3.2 billion to transport it. The Defense Energy Support Center reports that in 2005, the U.S. military spent around $8 billion on some 128 million barrels of fuel; in 2004, it spent $7 billion on 145 million barrels. Zilmer’s memo estimates that a hybrid solar and wind power system, though expensive initially, would cut costs by 75 percent and pay for itself in 3­–5 years.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.