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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)
Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)

By Dan Parsons

Almost three years to the day after he laid out plans to achieve energy security for his service, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus on Oct. 17 doubled down on that promise.

Mabus praised the progress the Navy has made and assured attendees at an industry conference that the goals he laid out in 2009 would be achieved within or ahead of the ambitious self-prescribed timeline.

“We have initiated, we have advanced and we have achieved many of the objectives we set,” Mabus said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Naval Energy Forum. “We are not there yet, but we are far further along. We’re doing what we’re doing and we’re leading at what we’re doing because it increases national security and, I would say, it increases international stability.”

Mabus said he was “absolutely confident” that the service will meet the prescribed goal that by 2020 half its energy will come from sources other than petroleum.

He has also called for half of all shore-based power to come from renewable sources by 2020 and for half of the Navy’s installations to be net-zero — meaning they create as much power as they consume — by the same year. Both are efforts to make the Navy’s infrastructure sustainable, “independent of what happens to the commercial electrical grid,” Mabus said. By 2015, all of the Navy’s ground vehicles will cut petroleum-based fuel consumption in half, he has vowed.

Meanwhile, each one-dollar increase in the price of a barrel of crude oil costs the Navy $30 million, Mabus said, echoing an oft-cited statistical grievance. 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., member of both the Senate Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources committees, said that same dollar increase costs the Defense Department a total of $130 million.

For the U.S. economy as a whole, a volatile and fragile global oil market can have “significant and dangerous impacts,” Mabus added.

For the Navy, which consumes enormous amounts of fuel each day steaming around the globe, the constantly fluctuating price of oil can cause budgetary migraines. In fiscal year 2012, the service was forced to find an extra $500 million to cover unforeseen growth in fuel costs, Mabus said. Fuel use also has direct impacts on global operations for both the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy spends $84 billion per year protecting maritime oil transit routes around the world, he said.

In an era marked by fiscal austerity and looming budget cuts, “there are only two places to get money like this,” he said. Without further funding, it must either come from operations or from the acquisition budget.

“I think those are simply choices we shouldn’t have to make,” he said. “I think there is another way to do this, but the only way is to think and act big.”

Shaheen said politics should not be allowed to get in the way of achieving energy security, regardless of controversial subjects like climate change. "As a policy, we need to make sure our military leaders can continue their historic tradition of identifying long-term challenges,” she said. “We cannot let energy security become a proxy debate for other issues surrounding renewable energy.”

The Navy is set to cut the ribbon Oct. 18 on a 1-kilowatt solar array at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif. The following day, a similar photovoltaic array will be unveiled at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. Each will save the Navy $13 million to $20 million over their 20-year lifespans, Mabus said.

These kinds of projects have practical impacts on the economic health of the nation and its security, Shaheen said.

“Energy has always been directly related to our economy, our national security and our combat effectiveness,” she said. “It is imperative to the success of today’s military. Energy security is national security.” 

In Hawaii, where fuel prices are the highest in the nation, plans are under way to generate 56 megawatts annually at various Navy installations by relying on “the strength of the Hawaiian sun,” Mabus said. At Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, a power-generating wave is already pumping electricity into the local electrical grid.

Perhaps the most ambitious effort Mabus has undertaken to achieve energy security is the search for a drop-in bio-fuel that burns cleaner and more efficiently than traditional petroleum based jet fuel. During the recent Rim of the Pacific international military exercises in Hawaii, Mabus’ Great Green Fleet demonstrated that it could be done.

With the exception of the USS Nimitz, which is nuclear powered, every aircraft and ship in that carrier’s strike group burned only a 50/50 mix of bio-diesel and traditional fuel. When he visited the exercises, Mabus’ own helicopter ran on the same mixture.

The only difference seems to be that bio-fuels seem to burn a little bit cleaner, he said. “Engines may last longer when you’re burning these because you don’t gunk them up.”

A major obstacle — politically and fiscally — is the price of bio-fuels relative to petroleum-based fuels. Though the cost of bio-fuels has dropped by half since the initiative was first announced, they remain magnitudes of order more expensive than fossil fuels. But Mabus and Shaheen agreed the Navy could help build a mass market.

“If there is an industry that the military needs that isn’t available … we can help spur it along,” Mabus said. He cited the steel and nuclear industries as success stories.

“Bio-fuels do still cost more, for now, but that cost is dropping dramatically,” Shaheen said. “The government is the biggest user of energy in the country and the military uses 95 percent of that.”

Mabus’ plans have taken hard knocks from budget hawks and skeptics of renewable energy. But he was careful to couch his quest for energy security as a practical necessity for future national security.

“Every change we’ve made has made the Navy and the Marine Corps stronger and better able to keep sea lanes open and the global commons safe,” he said. “We not only have the opportunity, we have an obligation to create a new energy future. There is absolutely clear and overwhelmingly compelling evidence that these efforts are vital to our national security.”

Correction: The original post misspelled Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's last name.

Photo Credit: Navy


Re: Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals

Good day,

I am delighted Secretary Mabus is sticking to his guns!

I participated in the ONR's  multi-player online collective intelligence game (MMOWGLI) in March, which sought to harness public input to innovate energy solutions for the Navy.  I achieved some distinction for my resulting action proposal "Scaling the Small Solutions," which posits a paradigm of integrated secondary energy capture and generation utilizing newly-emerging nano-, bio- and metal alloy technologies.  The pitch video I made for the proposal is here, should someone have interest:

I am also working to expand the now open-sourced MMOWGLI platform by adding a 3D virtual element to support collective research and innovation into accumulated micro- and secondary energy capture.  I am also seeking a partner for this and would welcome any recommendations you may have.  I am pleased to learn that the Navy maintains its commitment!

Additionally, I started an online petition to Congress in support of the Navy's biofuel plans but, unfortunately, it has not yet receive much attention.  It is here:

Perhaps some tweaking would make it more effective?

I am delighted this initiative by the Navy continues and welcome any opportunity to become further involved in these efforts.  Thank you and best wishes!

Sterling Wright 
Sterling Wright at 10/17/2012 4:13 PM

Re: Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)

I commend Secretary Mabus on his efforts to not only do the right thing but not cow down to Washington politics. His commitment to renewable energy gives me greater faith in our armed forces and foresight.


John Guchone
Amplius Group
John Guchone- Amplius Group at 10/20/2012 6:11 AM

Re: Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)

As to the solar projects mentioned, The 13MW China Lake project is a $100M effort by the same SunPower contractor that built an virtually identical $100M 13MW facility in 2007 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.  The math is pretty simple, $100M capital cost up front to save a maximum of $1M a year for 20 years when the free government land lease and the hardware expires.  The China Lake facility is expected to save only $13M over its lifespan (  That leaves an $87M loss to be absorbed by US taxpayers and local power company rate payers.  Nevada Power customers are paying higher rates to subsidize the Nellis solar plant, and it has to be shut off if city power goes down because they didn't install transfer switches to isolate it from the city grid.  Zero energy security improvement, $80M net loss, and taxpayers and electricity rate payers fleeced--exactly what we should expect from government and military-managed projects.  Instead of learning a lesson from Nellis, the Navy repeated the error in China Lake with apparently even a greater net loss.  This is either willful negligence, or willful malfeasance of public funds, and should be criminally prosecuted.  Unfortunately, this is the same math that is being used to justify military biofuels.  The Navy is leading the Department of Defense right off the cliff in an effort to please its political masters.  I bet there are scientists at China Lake and at the Naval Research Laboratory who know the score.  Perhaps they will finally speak up.
Cliff Claven at 10/20/2012 2:47 PM

Re: Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)

It is a fundamental misunderstanding of modern intensive agriculture and thermodynamics to think of biofuels as an energy source.  They are in fact massive parasites of fossil fuel energy with only a small fraction of their energy content from photosynthesis.   If biofuels were an energy source, we would see ethanol used to make more ethanol and biodiesel used to make more biodiesel.  Instead we use huge amounts of fossil fuel natural gas and petroleum to make the ammonia fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, farm equipment fuel, bio-refinery process energy, and hydrogen gas to hydrotreat the final product into the drop-in fuels the airlines and military require.  Petroleum is even the feedstock for the organic chemicals used to synthesize the designer enzymes for the most advanced biofuel processes.  In the end, biofuels are a hugely wasteful transformation of fossil fuel energy to generate a false fig leaf of being clean and green.  After more than $6B a year in subsidies since 2005, corn ethanol, the most productive US biofuel per acre of cropland, is still 40 cents more a gallon than premium gasoline when corrected for MPG energy content. (see E85 price in "AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report." ).  The laws of physics won't change no matter how many billions of dollars are thrown at them.  The lifecyle studies who algae fuels as the worst, with a 1:7 EROI, which means the end product hydrotreated biodiesel has less one-seventh of the energy input to create it. This is epic failure.  Dr. Chu and Secretary Panetta and Sir Richard Branson need to take a high school physics and chemistry refresher, and then force any prospective biofuel producer to walk them through the hydrogen and carbon mass balance stoichiometry and enthalpies of their process and show where all the energy inputs and outputs are happening.  They would inevitably see that biofuels are attempts at perpetual motion in chemistry--turning hydrocarbons into carbohydrates and then back into hydrocarbons, and it is hidden or disguised inputs of petroleum energy that make this parlor trick work.
Cliff Claven at 10/20/2012 5:30 PM

Re: Navy Secretary Won't Back Off From Renewable Energy Goals (Updated)

It's sad to have so many wanna be experts say the Math doesn't add up.  You have to first start somewhere and usually its expensive at first. Never put all your eggs in one basket.  Even when you purchase stocks you have diversification you want a well balanced approach.  You think you can tell the future you won't know what and how technology will materialize.  You have to make that leap in advancing new tech.  You don't have to be an expert its common sense.  There are no experts when it comes to things like this just assumptions.  Oil has had more than 100 years to advance there technology what have they really advanced, drilling.
scooter at 10/22/2012 3:27 PM

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