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

iraqrenewables.jpg Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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.

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There's something really unnerving about celebrating wind energy use in places like "Gitmo" and Iraq.

Yet I can also see the point of the RMI. Anything that accelerates the growth for wind and solar, no matter how distasteful its uses, brings us closer to a safer world. Looking at this from an ecological perspective (and climate change risks killing many more than US terrorism has managed so far), or from a geo-political angle (reducing the strategic value of oil), this is a good thing.

Of course, if we used the money spent on Iraq on levelling the playing field for renewables compared to subsidized fossil fuels, we could have done it much faster.

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 4 Oct 06

Of course, the title of this post could easily be changed to "With or Without Renewable Power, U.S. Army Could Fail in Iraq"

Posted by: Erik on 4 Oct 06

The US army has already failed in Iraq, unless its objectives were megadeaths, terrorist training and corporate enrichment.

Posted by: bo on 4 Oct 06



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