Renewables and the Military

Today the New York Times website featured a story proclaiming “U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels

While reading the article, I found myself having a deja vu moment. For historical perspective, consider that the nuclear power industry was largely an outgrowth of the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program, and in particular, the vision of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the so-called “Father of the Nuclear Navy.” In fact, the very first commercial reactor in the US was at one time slated for use in a ship. But after the USSR announced its Obninsk nuclear reactor, instead of putting it to sea, they put it on a concrete pad in Shippingport, PA (for more on the transformation of nuclear technology from bombs into electricity, see Garud, Gehman & Karnoe, 2011).

If the past is prologue, perhaps the military’s latest moves will help stimulate a shift in energy technologies once again. A telling snipet from the article:

“There are a lot of profound reasons for doing this, but for us at the core it’s practical,” said Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has said he wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That figure includes energy for bases as well as fuel for cars and ships. “Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan,” Mr. Mabus said, “and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.”

If even the military recognizes that fossil fuels are standing in the way of combat, perhaps one day soon the rest of us will realize they are standing in the way of civilian life too.

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